Products mentioned in this article: FD75 FlexDraper® Headers for Combine
“We see it all, 30 inch beans, fifteens and drilled. Every planting has its challenges but the FlexDraper® can take it all. Even in muddy conditions and standing water those heads will just float right over.”
It’s not an admission you would expect from someone who makes their living cutting soybeans for other farmers, but it's one that Illinois based custom cutter Matt Birky freely makes.
“You always knew you were going to have to stop, I don’t know how many times,” said Birky from his home near Champaign-Urbana. “With soybeans you're always dragging in the dirt, hitting a rock or breaking a section.”
Birky, who runs On Track Farming with his father Don, says that his feelings about cutting beans have changed significantly since they started using MacDon FlexDrapers about seven years ago.
“We used to run traditional flex heads on our Lexion Combines, but this one year the dealer happened to have a FlexDraper® left on his lot that was set up for a Lexion and we thought we’d give it a try. Our plan was to run one of our Lexion Combines with a traditional flexhead and the other with the MacDon.”
“My dad was the first to start with that MacDon and even before I got to the field he was calling me to see if we could get another one. He was that impressed with what he was seeing.”
Fortunately, more units were available and the Birky’s currently have three 45 ft (13.7 m) FlexDrapers running on Lexion Combines.
“We were just so impressed with the FlexDraper® over what we were using at the time. The biggest difference between those two heads that first year was that we could always run a mile an hour faster with that MacDon than we could with the traditional flex head.
Birky says that this difference in speed was due primarily to the smooth and even feeding of the draper.
“It just lays the crop straight back and gentle onto the draper and delivers a nice even ribbon into the feeder house. The combine runs smoother and quieter because it's not surging. As such we’re able to run it right there at the 99% of max at all times.”
Birky says that each year On Track Farming is responsible for cutting about 23,000 acres (9,308 ha) of corn and soybeans a year, so the increase in capacity alone warrants the switch to FlexDrapers. He also says that MacDon FlexDrapers have other benefits for his operation, including an ability to adapt on the fly to changing field conditions.
“We really like being able to adjust the header pitch on the go to different conditions, like if the beans are podded to the ground or if it's a little bit rocky. Now I'm sure maybe some people will just set the pitch and leave it, but we find we probably adjust the head maybe fifteen times in 80 acres (32 ha). I've run other heads since then that don't have this feature and you feel like ‘oh, man you need to pitch it back in here,’ but you can't do it. I just couldn't imagine not having that capability now.”
Another thing that has really impressed them is the ability of the FlexDraper® to cut low and still avoid damage from rocks and debris.
“With our old headers we used to get out of the machine four or five times a day to repair the sickle and guards, whereas now we only get out maybe once. We've run just about every brand there is and it just seems that these guards hold up a lot better.”
“But it’s the flotation on these headers that’s really amazing,” adds Birky. You can go to the end of the head and lift it with your pinky, really. When you hit a rock with this header you barely catch it. Even with a small rock the header just jumps over it and right back down. You'd think it was electronic or something.”
According to Birky, flotation like this has come in handy tackling the wide range of conditions that they harvest in.
“We see it all, 30 inch beans, fifteens and drilled. Every planting has its challenges but the FlexDraper® can take it all. Even in muddy conditions and standing water those heads will just float right over; you don't even realize how bad the conditions are. It’s definitely the most universal head for beans.”
“Another big thing is when we’re in double crop beans behind the wheat. We used to have a terrible time cutting those with a traditional head because they would just kind of pile-up on the sickle. However with these FlexDrapers we just go in and scoop them up.”
But where that flotation shines, says Birky, is when the moisture gets high, early in the morning and late in the evening.
“As soon as that sun goes down, you're dragging. I know that's everywhere, but our dirt is very black and rich and that means that we’re usually dragging real bad with a regular flex head.
Now with these FlexDrapers we can usually start earlier and cut an hour or two later just because they pull across the ground so easily.”
Birky says that the mechanics of the FlexDraper® concept usually “blows peoples’ minds” when they first see it and that many of his customers want to ride along for a few passes just to see them working.
“Anytime they get in with you they're carefully watching behind the head to see what's coming out or what it's missing. And they're always impressed with the job it's doing and the speed you're running.”
But he says what impresses his customers most is how the FlexDrapers typically recover more beans than they usually get with their own equipment and those are dollars right back in the farmer’s pocket.
“In the best conditions, I say that we’re probably getting 2 to 2.5 bushels an acre more. Even at today's low prices that can mean maybe 20 dollars more an acre and that's a lot. If you factor in the fuel costs if they did it themselves, that can be enough
to pay for the harvest.”
Birky says that his FlexDrapers even give him the confidence to take on jobs that have defeated his customers.
“We once helped out this hog farmer who put a lot of manure on one of his fields. The result was some of the tallest, toughest cutting beans we’ve ever seen. The stems were still green and tough as all get out. He tried to do it himself but he only got 50 yards (45.7 m) into the field before he had to give up. So he had us come in and even though we had to drive slower, we never had a problem; we were able to get that crop for him. That was definitely one situation where those heads were what got us there.”
Stories like that not only show how much Birky’s attitude towards cutting beans has changed, but also how Birky’s FlexDrapers are helping change attitudes about custom cutters in the area. Apparently, some people are a bit skeptical that a custom harvester can care as much about doing a good job as the farmer that hires him.
“Around here whenever anybody used to think of a custom harvester they’d think it was about quantity over quality,” says Birky. “But we’ve always tried to do the best job we can because we want to do the same customers year after year. These heads have helped us prove that we can not only do as good a job, but often a better job. Thanks to them we've got a pretty good reputation that follows us now.”