Stripper header helps producer save money, time, and increases yields

Winter is when many producers spend time researching new techniques and new equipment.

Kent Squires, who farms just outside of Geraldine, Mont., spent four winters researching one specific piece of equipment, a Shelbourne Reynolds stripper header.

“They were originally built for harvesting rice. Because of the stiff stem on the rice it wouldn’t go through the combine, so they built a header that just combed the rice out of the head and left the whole stock still standing. After they built it, they found out it worked super good for wheat,” said Squires.

Two years ago Squires made the commitment and purchased a stripper header.

“They’re actually cheaper than regular headers now,” he said.

After finishing his second harvest with his stripper header, Squires does not think he will ever go back.

“This is increasing our combine capacity by 50 to 100 per cent over other conventional headers and we are seeing a 40 per cent reduction in fuel costs,” he said. “Plus, we retain more stubble on the field for moisture capture and that is very important in dry land conditions.”

Squires said their fuel consumption is substantially less with the stripper header because the combine doesn’t work as hard. It takes a lot of horsepower and fuel to cut, thrash, separate, chop, and distribute the straw, he added.

With this header, 80 per cent of the thrashing is done in the header, Squires said. It has stainless steel fingers that rotate opposite of a reel.

“It combs the wheat right out of the head and leaves the stubble standing as tall as it was, just without the heads,” he explained. Squire said that with regular draper headers, such as the type most producers use, harvest takes an average of 10 to 14 acres an hour.

But by not having to deal with the stalks, Squires said, “we’re getting 22 acres an hour and running at 7 mph in substantially high-yielding wheat.”

These speeds could be pushed even more, he added. “A lot of times you are limited to field smoothness,” Squires commented.

“We are actually seeing a $200 a day savings in fuel.” Squires said that is figured on $2.50 a gallon for diesel fuel.

Getting the crop harvested in half the time with less fuel is a big cost savings but Squires says he has discovered even more positives.

“Another big advantage is that our grain tank samples are virtually spotless so we have little dockage. When you consider that, plus all the fuel savings and how much faster you can run, it really adds up. Every way you look at it, there are just huge advantages for this.”

“The maintenance is low. There is no sickle to worry about, no guards that get broke when you hit rocks, and you don’t have a reel flinging around. You have a rotor and skid pads you can adjust so it never gets in the dirt and that saves a lot of wear and tear. They’re not bulletproof but they are very well built,” Squires said. “I got into tough conditions two years ago that should have caused problems but we didn’t have any trouble with it.”

Squires says he loves to study the details of farming, and has noticed the header helps reduce water evaporation.

“In the fields where we run it, we’re leaving the stubble 20 to 30 inches tall,” he said. “With that we were able to capture 1.2 to 1.7 more inches of moisture in snow catch and reduced evaporation last year. When you figure that for the following crop, that converts to 6 to 9 more bushel per acre.”

He added his yields have increased on the fields harvested by the stripper header.

“We’re really happy with it,” Squires said.

He has also found the stripper header works great on his peas.

“There are about 10 crops this thing will work on. It will cut camelina, canola, peas, etc., and all the small grains so you can use it on different crops on your farm,” Squires said.

Another advantage is that the stripper header will fit almost any combine made with different adaptor plates.

Squires has found that the header works “wonderfully” in fields hit by the wheat stem sawfly.

“We had  50 per cent sawfly pressure in a few fields. The wheat was on the ground and tipped over but we were picking it up at 5 mph and still leaving stubble behind. With a straight cut header you’re running right on the ground trying not to hit rocks and there is no stubble left. This is a great sawfly tool.”

Squires explained that because it rotates in opposite directions it actually hooks the stalk and  heads, and sweeps it up.

“Nothing gets 100 per cent of the sawfly wheat up, but as of now, I’m happier with this header than I was with swathers, pickup guards or pick up reels. With your pickup guards your down to 1 or 2 mph. Swathing is a two-time operation. This stripper header puts it back to a one-time operation. As with any piece of equipment there is a learning curve to running one and if not properly set you will hate it.” 

The taller stubble also attracts sawfly predators. Sawflies live down in the stubble and predators are attracted to taller stubble.

“Research is starting to encourage leaving taller stalks to attract more predator insects and give them a host place to live,” Squires said.

The stripper header is not just for sawfly damage – it also works well on lodged or hailed-out wheat.

Squires also said a few years ago, in Kansas, they had a lot of hail damage and everyone was scrambling to buy stripper headers to pick their crop back up.

“I researched this for five years to make sure I was getting something that would work and it does. I love this stripper header – the efficiency and speed – and the big thing is the retained moisture for the following year. I’m just tickled with what this thing is doing,” he said.

Squires added, “The downside of this is possibly more truck support at harvest because of more harvest bushels per hour. There is also going to be seeding issues with the taller stubble retained, but with inner row seeding coming into the picture, which I have been doing for five years now, and the next generation air seeders coming into play, this is all achievable.”

Research keeps saying the taller the stubble the higher the grain yields and this is what we are experiencing also,” he concluded.

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