Chopping headers take out the trash

Love isn’t the kind of word farmers toss around too freely, but ask Allyn Buhrow and Jesse Schleich what they think of their chopping corn heads, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Buhrow on his Geringhoff head: “I love it. We’ve run it for three seasons, and this will be our fourth.”

Schleich on his John Deere head: “We just got it last year, and we love it. We love it when we’re working ground, too.”

Chopping corn heads are designed to chop up tough stalks, allowing them to decompose faster and, with any luck, leave less residue behind come spring.

Schleich, who farms near Fairview with his brother and father, is about to run their John Deere head for a second season. They didn’t change their tillage operations, but Schleich notes the chopping head made those tillage passes a dream.

“We don’t have near the residue in the spring with corn on corn,” he says. “In the spring, it’s almost like you plowed it. It’s just gone. We rip in the fall, and it’s gone in the spring.”

He admits they’ve had a bit of trouble with windrowing in no-till conditions, and he thinks the stubble may be a little harder on tires. John Deere chopping headers have a lawn-mower blade-type design, which mows the stalk off, leaving behind a harder stubble.

“We might address that with Stalk Stompers,” Schleich says (see “Save your tires” below).

Coming to America

Chopping headers have been popular in Europe for some time, and were introduced in the U.S. about a decade ago. Since then, as corn breeders have improved standability and as plant populations have increased (recommended stand counts are up nearly 30% in 20 years), U.S. farmers have been looking for residue management solutions. For many, chopping heads are a big part of their solution. Now, major equipment manufacturers sell chopping heads, as do Geringhoff, Drago, Fantini, Harvestec and Worthington Ag Parts, which sells Capello chopping heads.

According to Buhrow, nearly all the chopping heads in his area are either Geringhoff or Drago. One reason he likes their Geringhoff head is because it requires less horsepower and is lighter than other chopping heads.

“We’re running the smallest combine that Case makes that’s still an eight-row — a 5088 — and we roll right along,” he says, adding they normally pick at 4.5 mph. John Hoes, a product specialist with Geringhoff, confirms that their head takes about 1.5 horses more per row than a knife roll machine, while standard chopping lawn mower-style heads require 4 to 5 more horses per row over a knife roll machine.

“We’ve got a little bit of wear after the third year,” Buhrow says. “We’ve replaced the hook knives up front, but that’s it. We may replace the front three star cutting disks before this season starts.”

He adds that they changed tire spacing and still saw some wear. He also wonders if they’ll have trouble in dry conditions with fluff buildup on the head.

But the way the chopping head handles residue makes up for all that. “Last year, we picked in the rain, and we chisel-plowed right behind the combine. It was trashy conditions. There’s no way we could have done that with the other head,” Buhrow says.

And after having a neighbor combine a field or two for them last year, he was reminded of the difference in the two types of heads. “It’s just night and day,” he says. “There’s no going back.”

Save your tires from stiff stalks

As it turns out, a plant that can stand up to a 70 mph wind can also produce a cut stalk capable of punching through tire rubber.

Although tire manufacturers are standing by warranties, a flat tire means costly downtime for producers. To avoid that scenario, manufacturers, tire companies and farmers are all becoming more inventive.

First off the bat, Titan Tire’s Skip Sagar recommends radials. “Radials have a harder structure than bias-ply tires,” he says. “And these new hybrids do increase the challenge for tires.”

Titan Tire manufactures the Goodyear tire line, which has begun focusing its efforts on protecting farm tires.

“I’ve heard of guys who are taking a concrete-filled pipe and suspending it ahead of their tires to push the stalks forward as the tractor goes through the field,” Sagar notes. That way the stalks are angled away from the tires and, in theory, would push forward and away from the tires, instead of up and through.

May-Wes’ Stalk Stompers are another way to push cornstalks over and away from tires. They’re catching on with farmers, particularly those with a lawn-mower blade-type of chopping head.


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DRAGO: This brand is manufactured by Olimac, which made the first chopping corn head 44 years ago. Available widths are from four rows to 18 rows, and the chopping units can be either factory-installed or added later. Drago also offers residue sizing options.

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FANTINI: An Italian company with a North American office in Minnesota, Fantini offers fixed and folding chopping headers in four, six and eight rows.

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GERINGHOFF: Available in widths from four to 18 rows, the Geringhoff head features a patented rota-disk design that helps avoid tire damage by leaving vertical slices in the stalk stub, making it easier to break down.

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STOMPED:
May-Wes offers Stalk Stompers, which ride ahead of tires and push down tough cornstalks.

This article published in the June, 2010 edition of THE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.