Profitable Practices: Stripper header boosts harvest capacity, saves fuel, and builds soil health on this farm

What if there was a way to boost the number of acres harvested in a day by 20 to 50 per cent while reducing fuel consumption by a similar amount?

It may sound too good to be true, but that’s been the experience of Darren Maddess after switching his New Holland combine from a conventional straight-cut header to a stripper header four years ago.

For this episode of Profitable Practices, we visit a wheat field in southwest Manitoba, near Deloraine, where Maddess and his dad, Grant, were harvesting wheat.

As the names imply, a traditional straight-cut header has a knife that cuts a crop off and sends most of the above-ground plant material through the combine, while a stripper header has a drum with rotating fingers that strip only the heads or pods from the crop, feeding them into the combine.

It’s not uncommon to harvest at six-plus miles per hour with the stripper header, says Maddess, allowing them to cover up to 50 per cent more acres in the same amount of time. (article continues below)

After debating whether to make the purchase for several years, a challenging harvest in 2019 helped make the decision, he explains. “I realized if we had had it, the gain in capacity would have prevented us from harvesting in the snow. So it was almost an easy decision then.”

The stripper header also allows the combine to run a little later on evenings when there’s a dew, as the damp straw doesn’t enter the combine, he notes.

Cereal crops such as wheat might be the most obvious candidates for stripper header use, but Maddess says he’s also had success harvesting canola when there’s an even stand with a pod shatter-resistant variety, as well as an oat-pea intercrop mixture.

In addition to the combine capacity and fuel efficiency benefits, the taller straw that’s left behind results in improved soil armour, especially after multiple years in a zero-till system, explains Maddess, digging down through a thick layer of residue covering the soil between the rows of tall wheat stalks.

While the tall stubble can be a benefit in terms of retaining snow for spring melt in dry regions, Maddess says he’s seen at least one instance where his snow catch was so thick that it also insulated the ground and prevented the soil from freezing through a frigid Prairie winter, possibly resulting in better water infiltration and other soil benefits.

Seeding into a field that’s been harvested with a stripper header can be a major challenge depending on seeding equipment design, but Maddess says stripper headers should always be paired — even sold together — with disc drills.

“There are some who do a little bit of seeding with a hoe drill, but in that case they are running wide row spacing and RTK to try and seed between the rows, but with the disk drill, it’s no problem seeding into it,” he says.

Find more episodes of Profitable Practices here.

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