Canola School: New tool helps optimize combine settings in the heat of harvest

Fast forward a few weeks. Picture the combine has started rolling in a canola field, and you’re not quite happy with how much seed is being lost through the back of the machine. Should you increase cylinder/rotor speed? Open the upper sieve? Maybe adjust the pre-sieve? Decrease concave clearance? Increase fan speed? Decrease fan speed? Remove concave blank covers? Install concave covers? Adjust rotor vanes? Some combination of all of them?

These are just some of the potential solutions a combine operator has to consider in addressing an issue such as excess grain loss, but during the harvest rush, there’s pressure to not spend too much time adjusting the several dozen variables that determine how well a combine performs.

That’s why the Canola Council of Canada and the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) have developed an online tool to assist in combine optimization decisions on the fly. An example of the combine optimization tool providing recommendations to address excess grain loss in the rotor/cylinder.

Available on canolacalculator.ca, the tool essentially packages a traditional diagnostic flowchart that would fill multiple pages of paper into a convenient, web-based format that combine drivers can easily access on their phone.

PAMI program manager Joel McDonald and Canola Council agronomy specialist Angela Brackenreed (pictured above) presented the new combine optimization tool at Ag in Motion last week.

“There’s nothing revolutionary about the steps, but it’s easier accessibility, giving combine operators more confidence in what they’re doing,” explains Joel McDonald, PAMI program manager in this Canola School episode. “Lots of operators are going to look at it and say ‘Ah yes, that’s what I was thinking I should do, and I’m glad that someone else suggested it.’ That’s what it’s designed for.”

The tool asks between three and five questions, and then offers a series of recommendations to address the primary issue, whether it’s grain loss, grain sample quality or productivity.

“I picture this being a tool in the combine right in the heat of the moment when you’re having challenges, but I also see it as an opportunity in a less busy, less stressful period to sit down and go through it and use it as more of an educational tool,” notes Brackenreed (who will be discussing the tool at Crops-a-Palooza at Portage, Manitoba on Wednesday.)

The tool can be used for any make or model of combine, and even other crops, notes McDonald.