Technology Tune-up Tips for an Efficient, Accurate Harvest

October 12, 2018

With harvest fast approaching, you are probably monitoring your crops and the weather for the ideal time to get into the field.

And while many farmers will have thoroughly inspected their equipment before the combine starts rolling, it’s also important to check that precision technology is up-to-date and functioning correctly.

It’s key to do this now otherwise you may find yourself making repairs and corrections later, when you would rather be spending that time harvesting.

Not only will a pre-harvest tune-up save on time and reduce stress, it will also ensure the data you are collecting is accurate, which is crucial if you plan on using it to create variable rate maps for the next season.

Here are some tips on inspecting and preparing precision technology for a smooth and successful harvest.

Pre-Harvest Tune-Up: Steering Systems

1 – Start with the Steering Hardware

The first step is checking the hardware of the guidance steering system. This includes:

• Greasing all spindles and kingpins, and making sure there’s no wear on them, as that will result in a poor response in the system.

• Checking that linkages are tight and aligned properly.

• Verifying that the camber, caster and toe of your steering system are within spec, as misalignment will cause the system to pull to one side, resulting in uneven and excessive wear on your tyres and potential steering errors.

• Ensuring the tyres are in good shape — tread depth is correct and there is no excessive wear or deformities. Also, be sure that they are inflated to the correct pressure as listed in the operator’s manual.

If you have a hydraulic steering system — which most factory-installed systems are — ensure the hydraulic oil levels are right. Also, check that hoses aren’t leaking and are secured in the proper locations; not falling down and getting in the way of the tyres or the threshing mechanisms.

It’s also important to update the filtering system, with any filters changed according to the proper service periods. Clogged filters reduce flow and steering performance.

If you have an assisted steering system, such as the EZ-Pilot and EZ-Steer, make sure the anti-rotation bracketry is in good condition and secure. Again, verify that the linkages and brackets are tight and there are no sloping or worn parts.

If your system has a steering sensor, check its linkages, ensuring they are free and clear, with no sticking or play. Cables should be routed properly and not hanging. If you find any wearing or broken wires, repair and replace them as required.

2 – Do a Test Run

After you have checked all the physical aspects of the steering system, you should do a test run.

Firstly, if you transferred the GPS guidance system from another piece of equipment, make sure the right vehicle is entered into the system, so you have the right dimensions and configurations set up.

Then set an AB line in the field and see if the system steers to it and is performing well. Do this with the header on and threshing mechanism engaged as this can change the dynamics of the system.

Verify that the steering angle in your display matches the angle of your tyres. For example, if you turn your wheels to the left and the display says the angle is 27 degrees, draw a line in the ground from the tyre and calculate whether the actual angle is within a couple degrees of that.

If you’re not seeing a good performance from the test run, start with the basics: Verify measurements and orientations of precision equipment – often centimetres become metres or vice-versa. You can also calibrate the system  again, as per the installation manual.

But if you are not comfortable doing this, you may want to contact your precision ag dealer to redo the calibrations for you or verify the setup is correct.

3 – Reactivate GPS Subscriptions

Reactivate subscription GPS services for harvest. There is usually a little lead time to do this, so it’s better to do it now. 

 4 – Do a Data Cleanup

After inspecting and testing the steering hardware, do a data cleanup of your guidance lines so that only the ones you need are available. This is especially important if a third party will be using the system, as it ensures they will choose the right line.

If you have many guidance lines in the system and you’re not sure what they do, it’s best to get rid of them.

Consider whether you have acquired new land or renamed any land, as this is the time to re-export your ag management software so that field structures are up to date for proper data collection.

Pre-Harvest Tune-Up: Yield Monitors

5 – Calibrate for Accurate Yield

Our yield monitoring systems are volume-based, which means they sense the amount of grain that sits on the paddle in the grain elevator. The first step in collecting accurate data is to teach the system what the zero point is — what does the paddle look like with nothing on it?

Because the paddles can wear and change shape over time, this affects the sensor readout.>

Decide whether to keep or delete the load data from the previous harvest for calibrating this season’s yield.

If you are harvesting a different crop, it’s likely going to need its own calibration.

You will also need to factor in whether the yield potential is similar. If the last wheat crop you harvested had gone flat, its grain flow would have been much lower. If your wheat crop this is normal this year, the calibration won’t be tailored for a much higher grain flow.

6 – Harvest for Accurate Data

To calibrate for this year’s crop you will need new data in the system before you can apply offsets to it, which means you will need to do some combining to correct the system.

We recommend harvesting at least four loads to get an accurate calibration curve. The loads also need to be taken at various speeds so the system can get a sense for different crop flows to create an accurate calibration curve. If you take all your loads at the same grain flow, you will only get one point on the curve.

While you can do more than four loads, we don’t recommend going above six or seven, as it likely won’t improve the accuracy further.

7 – Troubleshooting Calibrations

If you decided to keep your old load data for calibrations and you start to see inaccuracies, inputting new loads is not likely to help — instead it will skew your numbers.

You can try to patch it, but more importantly, you should stop, look at the machine and figure out what’s wrong. If you need to change something, you might have to get some new calibration loads to reset the data.

Many problems that come up on the yield monitor indicate a problem with the combine itself. Clean the elevator and make sure the chain and paddles are in good shape.

Another consideration is that without a weigh ticket you can’t offset your yield data, so the information may not be 100% accurate. You will still know the high and low points in your
fields, but the numbers won’t be relative until you have that information.

Once you do have your weigh tickets, you can always go back into the system and correct the data later.

Learn more about how a Trimble yield monitor can help you capture valuable data that will enhance your decision-making for next season and beyond.  

Start Early

The sooner you can prepare, the better. Get ready at least two weeks to a month before harvest, so if you need to order parts or make major repairs, you have enough time.

The other benefit to preparing early is that you can teach staff how to work the systems and troubleshoot problems. It’s much easier to teach these things when you are not under stress yourself.

If you are not comfortable inspecting and maintaining your precision technology, ask your dealer to do this for you. Contact your local dealer to find out pricing as this can vary. 

Remember, your data is only as good as the machine itself. If something isn’t working properly, you are probably not collecting accurate data, which can have big consequences for future growing seasons.

Photo Credit: Chip Bryars, Vantage South

Authors: Dwight Easterly and Zach Gettman

Zach Gettman is a Product Manager for Trimble and manages the development of solutions worldwide. With 10 years of experience, specializing in flow and application control systems, he aims to help farmers increase their efficiency in the field.

Dwight Easterly is a Field Applications Engineer for Trimble, helping farmers improve efficiency and productivity on their farms with the proper installation of precision ag technology.