Harvesting lodged soybeans

Adjusting and operating the combine can help soybean producers reduce harvest losses due to lodging.

Editor’s note: A more updated version of this article has been published Sept. 25, 2014. Please see “Recommendations for harvesting lodged soybeans” for the most up-to-date recommendations.

I’ve seen several soybean fields that were badly lodged and many others that had localized lodging problems this fall. Lodging slows down harvest operations and leads to harvest losses as the lodged plants are more difficult to cut and gather into the combine. Soybean producers can reduce harvest losses due to lodging by carefully adjusting and operating their combines. The following recommendations will reduce losses in lodged soybeans.

Decrease your ground speed to 2.5 to 3 miles per hour.

Position the cutter bar as close to the ground as possible.

Angle the pickup fingers on the reel back slightly to more aggressively pull the lodged plants to the cutter bar. Reduce the angle of the fingers if the plants are riding over the top of the reel.

Run the axle of the reel 9 to 12 inches ahead of the cutter bar.

Operate the reel as low as necessary to pick up lodged plants without causing them to ride over the top of the reel. Raise the reel if this happens.

Consider installing vine lifters on the cutter bar if plants are severely lodged.

Operate the combine in the opposite direction if the plants are badly lodged in one direction

Try increasing the reel speed in relation to the ground speed. This sounds easy, but it can be challenging to find the correct groundspeed and reel speed combination in lodged beans having brittle pods. If the ground speed is too fast in relation to the speed of the reel, the cutter bar will ride over some of the plants. If the reel speed is set too fast in relation to the ground speed, the reel can beat the beans out of the pods. The reel should run 25 percent faster than the ground speed under ideal conditions. For a reel with a diameter of 42 inches, this is 10 rpm/mph. However, if the beans are lodged, increase the reel speed incrementally up to a maximum of 50 percent faster than the ground speed if necessary.

In lodged conditions, try running the reel at 11 rpm/mph. If the cutter bar is still riding over plants and the reel is not beating the beans out of the pods, consider increasing the speed of the reel to 12 rpm/mph. If the reel is causing shattering, decrease the speed of the reel just to the point that the shattering stops. If the cutter bar begins riding over lodged plants, you will need to decrease your ground speed.

Make one adjustment at a time and stop frequently to evaluate how you are doing.

Finally, producers that had significant lodging this fall should try to identify the cause or causes of the lodging. The most likely causes are high populations, low potassium soil test levels and variety selection. Soybean varieties differ in their susceptibility to lodging and producers should consider this characteristic when selecting varieties.

This article was produced by the SMaRT project (Soybean Management and Research Technology). The SMaRT project was developed to help Michigan producers increase soybean yields and farm profitability. Funding for the SMaRT project is provided by MSU Extension and the Michigan Soybean Checkoff program.

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