Invention could significantly reduce losses from corn shatter

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Farm Forum

An invention by a Groton man could save thousands of bushels of corn from being left behind in fields each year. And in a year when inputs are high and commodity prices are low, that can add up to huge savings.

Three years ago, Shawn Gengerke, now 40 and a fourth-generation farmer from Groton, was harvesting corn west of Aberdeen. It was a dry fall, and there was terrible shatter loss of the grain as it flowed into the combine. He figured he was losing 8 to 9 bushels of corn per acre and that was when corn was worth $7. In a 100-acre field, that meant a loss of $4,000 to $5,000. That didn’t make sense.

That experience lit the fire and desire in Gengerke to make a change. Prototypes were built, tried, rebuilt and finally field-tested. He led a team of 26 people who helped with the design process.

Shatter loss occurs when kernels of corn fall through the header and onto the ground. The Operation Harvest Sweep system replaces the existing deck plates and gathering chains in corn headers with patent-pending components engineered to combat this problem. According to field tests, Operation Harvest Sweep has been shown to reduce shatter loss by 80 to 85 percent, helping farmers make more money at harvest, while achieving full return on investment as quickly as one year.

“It’s a problem everyone has,” Gengerke said. The way it works, “It’s black and white, very simple,” he said.

After some research, his team found that no patents have been applied for any similar type of device. “The first corn head first went on the market in 1954,” Gengerke said. “It really hasn’t been changed in 60 years. There will always be shatter loss, so instead of trying to stop it, we decided to focus on how to retain it.”

In December, the product was rolled out and available for consumers. “Once the parts are manufactured in the USA, we bring the pieces here where they are boxed and shipped to customers,” Gengerke said.

Kits are available for most popular makes and models of corn headers, according to Gengerke. Each kit contains deck plates, gathering chains, impact pads and hardware for one row unit. Unlike standard plates, the deck plates included in the kits are lipped to retain shattered kernels, rather than letting them fall to the ground. The new gathering chains are equipped with sweeps to bring the shattered kernels from the deck plates to the auger. The gathering chains also come with impact pads for gentler corn handling and reduced shattering.

Gengerke said it takes about 15 minutes per row to install one kit. One kit will do one row.

The worst weed in soybeans is the corn plant. In addition to more bushels harvested, end users of Gengerke’s kits may also experience less volunteer corn appearing in their corn/soybean rotations. As a result of less volunteer corn, fewer nutrients and water are stolen from soybeans. Not only can farmers potentially save money by reducing chemical application, but they can also limit yield reduction of the soybean crop.

The desire to farm started early for Gengerke.

“I remember when I was 5. I was ‘planting’ the living room carpet,” he said. “I didn’t have a big enough planter, so I got out paper and colors, colored a new one and taped it to the tractor hitch. That way I could plant a little faster.” His desire to do a little more continues in his farm and business operation.

Last year, Leading Edge Industries introduced the Load Judge that uses patent-pending, high-tech sensors and a user-friendly smartphone or tablet app to load hopper-bottom grain trailers with a high degree of accuracy. The device has been recognized with innovation awards in the industry.

To learn more about the harvest sweep kits, visit www.harvestsweep.com. For more information, contact Leading Edge Industries, 12702 406th Ave., Groton, SD 57445, or call 605-397-2020.

“Operation Harvest Sweep will pay for itself in the first 900 acres,” Gengerke said. “We built the first prototypes to prove the concept in that first year. Then we tried it out in difficult conditions: downed corn, wet corn, mud, snow and rain. We know it works.”