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Harvest logistics panel shares their pinch points

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 14 July 2020
Chopping corn

Double KS Farms LLC

“Every minute counts,” said Jim Schmidt. Schmidt and his family run Double KS Farms LLC, an 8,000-acre no-till grain farm near Manhattan, Kansas.

The farm is spread 45 miles east to west and 25 miles north to south around the Flint Hills. “We don’t know what flat, black and square is,” Schmidt said. “Our fields are wonky-shaped, and almost all are terraced.”

“Before 9/11, we could go back and forth through Ft. Riley, but now we have to [go] around and we’ve become very judicious about trips back and forth. If it’s game day in Manhattan, [Kansas] we shut down because we can’t get around the traffic,” Schmidt said. And that’s why every minute counts. “We finally went to electric tarps on all the trucks, not out of laziness but for efficiency. A couple minutes here and there add up to loads, and a couple loads here and there make up an extra day, and a couple extra days make up a week,” he said.

Efficiency is the name of the game in any operation. Schmidt and other farmers and custom operators constituted a panel forum for the 2020 Agricultural Equipment Technology Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, sponsored by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The panel’s task was to help ag equipment engineers understand what they need and what their challenges are.

Schmidt is also an engineer and worked over 20 years in agricultural product development before returning to their sixth-generation farm. “As one engineer to another,” he said, “the bitter pill I swallowed in the farming world is that brand loyalty and the ability to sell equipment largely goes to the dealer to provide service and parts after the sale. It’s absolutely critical to have their ability to react. Every time the air filter plugs, the dealer gets an email, they finally call me and tell me they’re tired of getting emails and would I please get out of the combine and blow it out.”

One of the challenges in the general ag industry, Schmidt said, is material handling. “Yields aren’t going down. Farming is material handling – in the field in the spring, out of the field in the fall. Railways are struggling, and we’re putting more and more semis on the roads. Material handling is an issue we have to figure out better.”

Schmidt also said field software could still stand improvement. “[Original equipment manufacturers] are not software companies, but with our dollars spent on equipment in the field, there’s got to be better software out there,” he said. “We’ve gone through multiple revisions of our software package, and we’re still not there yet. We only get 40 to 50 percent of the value from all of our precision farming data – meaning that current software shortcomings force us to leave a lot of potential on the table. It’s still a lot of mess running multiple machines in the same field.”

Ron and Dan Byers Forage LLC

Dan Byers agreed with needing more efficiency measures in harvesting. He is an owner of Ron and Dan Byers Forage LLC, and they’ve been in the harvesting business since 1983. They provide custom chopping and bagging with six crews, covering almost 35 counties in Illinois. “When it comes to design or structure, anything that’s streamlined – uniform in routine maintenance or hookup-time savings – is what I’m looking for,” he said. “As for electronics, the more straightforward it is, the better. I’m working through some situations with older operators, and simpler is better.”

Byers has also experienced some frustration over autonomous improvements. “With fewer people, we have to cover more ground,” he said. “I’m for automation, but there has to be some sort of quality control assurance. Does the autonomous machine provide the quality of work we want? I have an autonomous motion spout, but I can’t get it to work right. Autonomous is nice, but I’ve got to know the quality of the work is there.” He’s also experienced frustration when silage bagging machines can’t keep up with the larger-row choppers.

Knuth Farms

Kerry Knuth is a producer from eastern Nebraska and raises corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, non-GMO crops and has just become certified organic on a percentage of his acres. The operation consists of Kerry, his wife, Angela, and their two sons, Gregory and Garrison. Adapting to new technology in its early stages has been and is currently something he believes in for saving time and money. With real-time data from Farmobile, he can watch what’s going on out in the field by desktop, tablet or phone. “During harvest, I can also connect to the scale to watch production,” he said. “Machine playback gives the history of what’s been done. If somebody tries something different, like spraying a different way, I can see what they did.”

Knuth receives daily, weekly and monthly email reports that include machine metrics on time, end rows, idle time, fuel usage, input usage and production. He also uses CropZilla machine analytics to give the true cost of equipment, as well as operation activity and total cost of operations. Knuth said he owns the data and can decide whether or not to sell it to Farmobile DataStore with a 50-50 revenue split. “A lot of [crop data] is going to groups wanting to know what we’re doing on the food side – carbon footprints, what we’re doing sustainably. We get to choose who will see the data and what they use it for. As we’re getting into organics, you wouldn’t believe the tracking we have to do. My wife had to go back through years of data and prove what we had been doing on every acre for the last five years,” he said.

“What we’d really like,” Knuth said, “is to plan out what will happen before we hit the field, so that an operator has to go the way it’s plugged into the equipment. I’d like to know when we need a grain cart before we need a grain cart and have it appear in the field because we already know that’s when it’ll be needed. I know how to make equipment ‘go’ all the time, but with newer operators, I need what will help teach them efficiency.”

Preferred Custom Harvesting LLC

Harry Wallace started custom harvesting forage (2006) in Galva, Illinois, using a six-row chopper and one crew, then grew it to two eight-row machines and two crews. “At 200 tons per hour machine capacity, we need stronger pickup head teeth to gather crop from a windrow,” he said. “Here in Illinois, there is black glacial deposit soil, and customers apply manure to it also. Some of the 36-ton-per-acre corn is 16 feet tall. In these conditions, you don’t brag about how fast you are traveling … we want to operate the choppers within a freckle of plugging.” (Wallace said the 36 tons per acre is the highest tonnage he’s had to chop.)

Another frustration for Wallace is tire failure. “We run high-flotation tires on nine wagons with six tires each – and they don’t like sharp rocks or debris that punctures them. Flat tires are a huge pinch point, and there are 54 tires to pinch you.”

Buckeye Harvesting

Ross Woodruff, from Sabina, Ohio, is one of five family members on their farm of 9,250 acres specializing in corn and non-GMO soybean production. Ross handles field operations, trucking and previously ran the custom harvesting business. He shared with engineers his wish list:

  • Scales readable by the tractor and combine operator using main displays in the equipment instead of adding extras (“We’re getting too many displays in the cab,” he said.)

  • The grain cart operator needs to be able to read how much is on the combine, and the combine operator needs to be able to see how much is on the cart. “Too many times, the grain cart might need 5,000 pounds to finish a load and comes to unload the combine when it has 15,000 pounds on it,” he said.

  • An app would be helpful where inexperienced mechanics can take a picture of a broken part, and it would identify the part and availability of that part from your local dealer.

  • Improved serviceability in software – “We hired a mechanic with 25 years of experience at a local dealer, but the serviceability is still an issue without access to a manufacturer’s service software.”  end mark

PHOTO: Custom harvesting. Staff photo.

Lynn Jaynes
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