Megan: Embracing Change

Throughout the winter and spring months, Dad and Brandon continually try to stay in contact with our farmers. By doing this we can keep updated on how the crops are doing and also obtain a tentative harvest timeframe for each area. Furthermore, these “check-in” phone calls give us vital information about what to expect on the road. For example, hearing of the dry winter and poor outlook on the wheat crop in southern Oklahoma, we chose to not bring our grain cart to our first stop this year.  However, while visiting earlier this summer with one of our Kansas farmers, Gary, Dad received some surprising news.  Gary reported the wheat to be exceptionally short this year from the drought and asked if we had a stripper header or would be interested in using one. Since Gary is an avid no-till farmer, he plans to plant dry land corn behind the wheat stubble next spring so he wants his ground to have the tallest stubble possible, which can be achieved by using a stripper header. By keeping more stubble, the fields will be capable of catching more snow during the winter months. Much of the moisture for this ground is from snowfall and snowmelt, so this concept is essential.  In conventional tillage, the earth is worked by different tillage tools and fields are often alternated between planted crops and summer fallow (which is when a field is rested from planted crops but still tilled to rid it of weeds so it can accumulate summer moisture). In no-till farming this conventional cultivation is skipped and planting is done right through the residues of previous crops. This type of farming is also called continuous planting, since the ground is constantly being used.

Through advances in agricultural equipment and chemical usage, it seems that no-till farming is becoming increasingly more popular these days. Many believe that the practice of no-till farming is very beneficial, but key aspects must be addressed in order to master this process. One major part of this farming practice is for no-till fields to obtain the optimal amount of moisture, especially snowfall during the winter. By using a stripper header to harvest wheat crops, a substantial amount of the stubble is left standing, in comparison to using a draper or auger header, which cuts off the wheat at a much shorter height. The tall stubble also offers more shade, which keeps the ground temperature cooler and helps to retain more moisture.

After contemplating the idea for some time and checking with multiple implement dealerships, Dad finally decided that tracking down a stripper header would be beneficial to our business.  We believe that having a stripper header will allow us to offer our farmers a different option. The stripper header can also be used on other small grains such as peas, oats, flax, proso millet, grass seed, and rice. In the last 35 years of harvest, Dad has never operated a stripper header, nor has Roland Harvesting ever owned one.  So needless to say this was completely new territory for our crew, making it a learning experience for all of us.

Stripper header in the wheat
The stripper header hooked up to our CR 9060 as it runs swiftly through the wheat field. We started using the stripper header at our previous stop in Hoxie, Kansas and also put it to work up the road in Imperial, Nebraska.

Here is some history about the stripper header, provided by “The stripper header was originally conceived by Keith Shelbourne in the mid eighties as a derivative of the rotary head fitted to the companies pea harvesters. The first models were put on the market in the UK in 1989 and continual design enhancements have led to steady sales growth since.”

If you are wondering exactly how a stripper header operates, read on as Shelbourne explains: “The basic concept of the stripper header is that a rearwards rotating rotor fitted in the front of the header is fitted with 8 rows of stripping fingers that strip grain from the crop as the combine moves the head forwards while it spins backwards. The speed of the rotor can be varied according to crop conditions. After the grain has been stripped by the rotor a series of deflectors within the header deflect the grain back into a conventional auger and pan. This auger then moves the material to the center where it enters the feederhouse of the combine.”

Bottom side of stripper header
This is a glimpse of underneath the stripper header. You can see the metal fingers that rotate at a high speed to remove the wheat heads.

Stripper header lifted up
Here is a full view of the stripper header raised up as Dad unloads the combine onto the truck.

Standing wheat next to stripper head stubble
On the right of the standing wheat you can see the very tall stubble left by the stripper header, which basically just pops the wheat heads right off.

Short stubble from draper header
The wheat was so short in some areas around Hoxie, Kansas that we had to cut this low with our draper headers to even clip the heads.

Stripper head stubble vs. draper header stubble
We used our draper headers on the fields with taller wheat, and saved the stripper header for the specific fields that will be planted in corn next year. However, in the picture above we used both the stripper header (on the left) and the draper header (on the right) to cut out this field. Since the height of the wheat varied so much there were many short stalks that forced us to cut very low to the ground so we could pick up the heads with our draper headers.

Stripper header from cab
A view from the combine of the stripper header in action. By purchasing and operating this, Roland Harvesting has added a new “first” to our list.

Unloading on the go
Unloading on the go with the grain cart was much easier with the stripper header since it was only a 28 foot long header compared to the 36 foot draper headers we’re used to.

Through our own experience of running the stripper header we found it to be very beneficial in flat fields since we could run at a higher ground speed than with our draper headers. Furthermore, it works well in green straw since there are not sickles that can get gummed up with the damp straw.

Shelbourne reports other benefits: “85% of the grain is threshed by the header meaning that the material entering the combine is predominantly grain, chaff, leaf and minimal straw. The benefit of this reduced bulk entering the combine is significantly improved capacity and efficiency. Other benefits include improved performance in down, lodged and hailed crops, both in terms of crop recovery and speed as well as improved performance in green, high moisture and weed infested crops.”

Nonetheless, like all equipment there were some drawbacks to the stripper header. Since the fingers are so close to the ground and can often hit the dirt we discovered that it is more difficult to maneuver on terraces and over rough terrain. In such challenging fields it reminded us of operating the old auger headers that we used to run over 10 years ago.  In addition, the stripper header is more expensive to maintain than our current draper headers.

Overall, Dad’s take on the stripper header is this: It is comparable to wearing gloves – they certainly have their purpose and sometimes are even needed to get the job done. However, he wouldn’t want to use them every day or take them everywhere. We believe that there is a special niche for stripper headers but it would be very difficult to replace draper headers as our primary headers, since they are universal, practical, and remain diverse for the harvest of many crops.

Wheat head
Mom and Dad always say that farming is a practice, not a science. By trying out the stripper header we are embracing the ever-changing world of agriculture.

Dad fixing a hydraulic leak
Dad takes a look at a hydraulic hose on the feederhouse.

Just as we were getting the hang of operating the stripper header we ran into a couple of breakdowns, all of which were related to hydraulic problems. Since the wheat was so short and the terrain of the field varied, Dad had to continually speed up and slow down. This variation of speed generated a significant amount of heat, causing different hydraulic hoses to blow periodically. Luckily, once the system cooled down we could replace the appropriate hydraulic hose so we could get up and running again.

Hydraulic oil everywhere on combine
Unfortunately, it seems like just a few hours later we would have another hydraulic hose blow again. The above view of hydraulic oil sprayed all over the bottom side of the combine is never a good sight.

Dad fixing a hydraulic hose
Hydraulic hoses can be found all over the combine and sometimes fixing them means that you have to crawl into little nooks and crannies within the machine. Dad managed to wiggle his way underneath the auger on the combine to get to this particular hydraulic connection. After talking to New Holland Support we switched a computer setting on the CR to help with the overheating hydraulic system, which finally eliminated these breakdowns for us.

Portable desk
What do you do when the combine breaks down and you have to wait in the pickup while Dad goes into the implement store to get parts? Whip out your “portable office” and get to work, of course.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, paperwork is a huge aspect of harvest and is often very time consuming. Mom always brings her “desk on wheels” out to the field, just in case we have any down time so she can balance the check book, do pay roll, and work on bills. She is a serious multitasker! Oh, and a special thank-you goes out to Hoxie Implement (the store in the background of this photo) for all of their help this harvest season, as well as many previous years.

All Aboard Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and Syngenta. Megan can be reached at


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