Direct harvest of dry beans draws a lot of interest

Producers who want to switch to direct harvest need to do more than simply change their harvest routine. They must adapt their entire production system, according to several speakers at a packed meeting in Alliance.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension experts and others shared research and experience in direct harvest at a recent meeting at Alliance to an audience of 84 people who included producers, bean processor representatives, equipment company reps, and others.

Direct harvest is a one-pass harvest method in which a combine with a specialized header removes the beans from plants still standing in the fields. It is not widely used yet in Nebraska, but it is in several other areas where dry beans are grown. North Dakota growers direct harvest 70 percent of the state’s 200,000 acres of pintos. Nebraska direct harvested less than 5 percent of the 60,000 acres of pintos grown here in 2011, according to John Smith, retired UNL Machinery Systems Engineer and Professor Emeritus.

Most Nebraska dry bean growers harvest the crop in several steps, first cutting or rodding the mature bean plants into windrows, and finally combining the beans out of the windrows. John Thomas, Extension Educator in Box Butte County, said more Nebraska growers are trying direct harvest every year.

Smith, Thomas, and several other speakers discussed factors in the production system that lead to success or failure with direct harvest. The important factors in a production system, according to Smith:

·An upright bean variety with long branches.

·Level soil surface.

·Good weed control.

·Early, uniform plant development throughout the field.

·A good combine header.

Smith said direct harvest is worth considering because it saves labor, requires fewer passes over the field, cuts the risk of harvest loss due to wind and rain, disturbs the soil less, and results in less soil going through the combine, reducing damage to machinery.

On the other hand, not everybody is doing it yet because the harvest will require waiting until beans are more fully mature, means learning a new production system, might require a new combine header, will result in higher harvest loss, and, in some cases, a neighbor has had a bad experience with it, he said.

Typical harvest loss for the conventional method is 1 ½ bushels per acre, Smith said. Harvest loss in direct harvest has varied from one study to the next, but a realistic target for growers is 3 to 4 bushels per acre for pintos and 4 or more bushels for Great Northern beans.

Smith addressed changes in the production system that need to occur even before harvest.

One factor is bean variety. Plant height, height of the bottom pods, long branches, and growth are important, in addition to traditional traits such as seed size and quality and disease and insect resistance. Further work is needed in plant breeding, evaluating varieties, and conducting field variety trials, he said.

Several tillage systems can work with direct harvest, Smith said. In any event, soil compaction must be avoided. The field surface must be level. Planting into standing cover crops will work. Narrower rows, from 15- to 22-inch spacing, and higher plant populations, tend to work well, he said.

Smith said uniform and strong plant development is important so the field matures at the same rate. This might mean early planting, and timely irrigation.

UNL Weed Specialist Bob Wilson discussed the importance of weed control. An integrated weed control program includes numerous factors, such as crop rotation, crop residue management, preplant preparation, narrow row width, crop architecture, tillage system, and other factors, he said.

Wilson also discussed special considerations, such as controlling weeds in no-till systems, combining herbicides, scouting for weed outbreaks, and late-season weed control

At harvest time, growers can choose from several types of combine headers, including flex drapers, flex augers, and rigid headers. Smith reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of each, and the features and capabilities that growers should seek when considering headers.

Thomas demonstrated a method that growers can use to determine harvest loss, a homemade, 5 ½-square-foot framework made of iron rod that measured 66 inches long by 1 foot wide. The frame is placed in a harvested area of the field, perpendicular to combine direction. The number of beans lying within the frame is counted and divided by 10 to get a good estimation of harvest loss. For example, 50 beans would represent a 5 bushel per acre loss.

Directions for making a harvest loss frame are on the UNL Extension Panhandle web site,

Thomas presented data collected from an on-farm direct harvest research plot near Hay Springs that compared pinto varieties and how they performed using direct harvest. The study was conducted by Stateline Bean and the University of Nebraska in cooperation with Roger Rasmussen. Some data was also shared of measured harvest losses from direct harvest operations in 2012 on a number of different farms in Box Butte County.

Thomas also gave advice on how to obtain crop insurance coverage for direct-harvested beans. Representatives of MacDon Company, 21st Century Equipment and Alliance Tractor discussed combine headers made by MacDon, John Deere and Case IH. A growers panel shared their experiences with direct harvest. Kelley Bean, New Alliance Bean, Stateline Bean and Trinidad Bean companies sponsored the lunch and refreshments.

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