It's September and in the Grain Belt that means harvest time is here. And while concern mounts over the rising cost of fueling up combines, there's also growing excitement over the prospect of bringing in the crops.
The vagaries of the weather this year have drawn a fine line between bounty and bust. And that's where Graeme Quick comes in. An expert on grain quality, Quick believes there's much that farmers can do from the combine to help boost yield. And with harvest just around the corner, he provides strong evidence that it's high time to think about just how to get the crops in the bin.
Laurel Bower Burgmaier explains.
Graeme Quick, Melbourne, Australia: "I was found under a cabbage leaf in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. My father was adopted by a farm family and they expected him to take over the farm when they got too old. He had no desire to go into farming, but every holiday that I had when I was growing up, I spent out on that farm. I used to love that place. To me, farming was harvesting. That was the main thing I was involved with. And, I stayed with harvesting all my life."
Australia native Graeme Quick's fascination with harvesting has influenced him to carry out grain research around the world. He has worked in 21 Asian countries, 35 nations worldwide. In 1997, he made his way to Ames, Iowa, where he took a job as an adjunct professor at Iowa State University. In that role, he brought 40-plus years of extensive research, design, engineering and academic experience. He taught farm machinery there for seven years and returned to his homeland in late 2003.
Graeme Quick, Melbourne, Australia: "The purpose of all that work was to relieve drudgery, to improve conditions, to improve productivity, improve profitability of farming."
Over the years, Quick has been awarded 14 design patents. The U.S. patents have resulted in products being sold by farm machinery companies worldwide. Some have contributed to improvements in soybean and corn harvesting.
SLUG HARVEST IN NEVADA, IOWA
In his research, Quick often concentrates on subjects like combine performance and grain quality. He and the engineering team at Iowa State have worked with several farmers finding ways to improve their productivity in the field.
SLUG QUICK TESTING CORN
Graeme Quick, Grain Harvest Expert: "In my research, I became more interested in the defects that might be caused by the harvesting machinery, visible damage to the grain. The higher the degree of visible damage done to the kernels, the lower the yield. You may not see it at the elevator in terms of broken corn farm material, BCFM, but if you are causing damage that is visibly damaging, inevitably there is going to be less yield in the bin."
So, how can producers reduce grain loss in the field? (GRAPHIC) Quick and his colleagues at Iowa State have several recommendations. For one, they suggest keeping a combine full. A farmer can reach peak efficiency by keeping the volume of grain passing through a combine as high as possible. They can achieve this by using higher ground speeds. Damage and losses are greater at a very low operating speed.
Quick explains operating at lower speeds results in less crop throughput. And less throughput causes less residue to go through the cylinder or rotor. This residue acts as a cushion protecting kernels from damage. For example, slowing a combine down from 7 to 2 miles-per-hour while operating at an excessive threshing speed causes kernel damage to double from 20 to 40 percent regardless of combine type. Quick says the loss culprit is often the cleaning shoe and that the blast of air from the fan can lift kernels out of the back of a combine when throughput is low. He suggests farmers adjust the fan speed to crop conditions as often as they adjust cylinder or rotor speed.
While it's no longer the days of $10 beans and $3 corn, Quick explained early last fall how grain loss in the field can affect farmers' earnings.
Graeme Quick, Grain Harvest Expert: "When I talk to farmers, what is that doing to my hip pocket? Don't give me this academic stuff. All right, well so many percent loss can be converted into bushels per acre. Bushels per acre can be converted into dollars per acre. Now, we're talking the sort of language farmers can understand. Ten dollar soybeans is very rapidly incomprehensible, one bushel of soybeans, ten dollars. If we lose a bushel from setting the head the wrong way or not having the thing running on the ground, the cutter bar running on the ground, we lose one or two bushels there. That is twenty dollars an acre. If soybean yields are a little bit reduced, you don't really want to lose twenty dollars an acre in a crop like that. That is substantial."
Bill Couser (COW-cer), a farmer and seed corn breeder, has helped Quick conduct grain quality research on many Iowa fields.
Bill Couser, Nevada, IA: "All of these combines are the same. It all boils down to operator settings. It's an educational process. When we get into this time of year, we pull all the stops out. We've got to get in and out. Well, at what price are you willing to pay? Sure, you can put a lot more bushels through that machine, but you're also putting bushels out the back of it."
Quick says there is a sweet spot of operation for each combine and crop. He advises farmers to begin with the settings outlined in the machine's operator's manual. Also, farmers should frequently check how their combine is running, especially when yields or moisture content change. They need to inspect the machine's performance using a sample of each crop that is representative of the entire field. They should only make one adjustment to a combine's components at a time. And, Quick says farmers must check the results of the last adjustment before making another.
SLUG HARVEST IN NEVADA, IOWA
Any grower who has been penalized with a broken corn and foreign matter, or BCFM, discount at the elevator understands the cost of grain damage. The harvest research gathered by Quick and his colleagues is teaching farmers to be more efficient in the field, as well as improving their bottom line.
Graeme Quick, Grain Harvest Expert: "It is the crowning act in a farmer's season. If there is no harvest, he makes no money and people starve. So, it is the most important act."
For Market to Market, I'm Laurel Bower Burgmaier.