Farmers encouraged to calibrate harvesters

Arable growers may be losing thousands of dollars in profit from harvest losses because their combine harvesters are not dialled in.

Primary Sales Australia chief executive Peter Broley said it was important growers accurately and regularly measured grain and seed losses from combine harvesters so adjustments could be made.

"Machinery and front losses are things we can change, in contrast to losses from a weather event like rain or wind. If we measure, we can halve our losses, which is what happened in Australia."

He gave advice to avoid yield and profit losses, during a series of South Island field events by the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR).

Combine harvesters were inspected from the front to the back to ensure as much of the crops as possible go into silos.

Mr Broley was part of a team of experts from Australia.

They have run dozens of similar events across the Tasman.

Over-subscribed workshops in Mid Canterbury, South Canterbury and Southland had growers bringing their own harvesters to talk about setups.

A Grains Research and Development Corporation study of arable farms in Western Australia showed $320million of grain and seed — equal to $80,000 a grower — was likely left in paddocks in 2021 from front and other machine losses.

The study showed growers using commercially available drop trays averaged 1.3% machine losses across all crops, compared with 2.9% for those not using trays.

Factors for front losses are front type and setup, and in back losses, travel speed, rotor clearances, fan speed and sieve settings.

At a Mid Canterbury workshop, growers pointed out they were already measuring crop losses, mainly using improvised methods such as running behind the back of a harvester with a shovel, or using a tray, bag or cardboard mat.

Asked how often they measured, one grower replied it depended on the value of the crop.

Mr Broley said improved operator confidence in their combine setup would mean they could increase their harvesting speed and productivity.

With combine running costs of $600 to $700 an hour, this could bring savings in fuel, labour and depreciation as well as more timely harvesting of crops.

A Mid Canterbury grower importing a drop tray system two years ago revealed farmers could pay for it in the first paddock, particularly with small seeds.

"You can make big gains quite quickly in the first year."

After using the drop tray to fine tune his combine, he increased his speed in wheat crops from 3.5km an hour to 4kmh.

Australian harvester specialist Brett Asphar told growers once they had measured their losses they needed to find out where they were occurring.

He advised growers to adjust one thing at a time, run their combine for a few minutes, then do a drop tray sample to gauge whether the change has made a difference.