Extreme conditions require some extreme solutions. One Worcestershire contractor has modified a grain chaser bin to encourage the successful transfer of maize into waiting trailers.
Until the arrival of the 2019 maize harvest, the latest Worcestershire contractor Phil Collins had ever harvested maize was Bonfire Night.
This year, he is well into December, but hopes to be finished by Christmas thanks to some clever modifications he has made to a grain chaser bin.
Mr Collins, who operates Phil Collins Agricultural Services from Little Ashdene Farm, Kington, says: “Grain chasers work really well with bone-dry materials.
“Anything with moisture will simply bridge and hang in the body.”
Like most farm-driven creations, his maize chasing solution was inspired by an impromptu chat with mates, not surprisingly, down the local pub. The idea was spawned following a woodchip delivery, which was carried out using a grain chaser bin to overcome noise and dust restrictions.
“I knew we could use a grain chaser to handle woodchip by removing the throat plates that sit above the auger in the base of the body,” he says.
“And it got me thinking about how I could do the same with maize.
“But any old chaser will not do – it needs a twin-axle model with the unloading auger near the middle of the chaser for the optimum solution for flow.
“This lets you feed the crop over a shorter distance to a central intake box, rather than trying to auger maize from one end of the chaser to the other.”
Kicking the idea around with a drainage contractor friend soon opened up the possibilities of using controlled vibration to shake down any stuck crop.
Controlled vibration is a technique adopted by makers of gravel carts to improve the flow of wetter materials such as sand, from the hopper to the discharge belt.
“I thought this process could be applied to a grain chaser bin to help keep maize on the move,” he says. “And so he lent me a couple of oscillating hydraulic motors to try.”
Mr Collins sourced a Richard Western FR20 – a twin-axle bin which offers a 20-tonne capacity with grain. Importantly, it has the collection and discharge point close to the middle of the body.
With the auger’s throat plates removed, the challenge of integrating a means to shake the chaser caused a lot of head scratching at Little Ashdene Farm.
“I did not want to start drilling holes in the body or mount the hydraulic motors directly to it,” he says.
“So we hung some chequer plate in the middle of the body directly above the auger using chains. Then we mounted the oscillating motors to the plate.”
He says version one did not last too long.
“The plate was too thin,” he says.
“So we used 6mm steel.
“The thicker steel shakes with enough frequency to encourage crop to drop onto the auger.”
Working as a crop divider, the plate can swing sideways over the auger, but not fore/aft.
Motors are plumbed to a spool, with a free flow return taking care of motor case drains.
“The only other modification we made was to weld a paddle-plate to fill the gap where the two auger flights meet over the auger collection box,” he says.
“This acts as a paddle to push crop to the discharge auger, and then it is gone – up the auger and into the trailer.”
In operation, Mr Collins says the key is to fill the chaser from the centre, then work forwards and backwards to let maize tumble to either end.
“We do not really want to pack the chaser tight in the same way we would load a trailer,” he says.
“And filling the middle first lets crop spill over the vibrating plate.
“When the chaser is empty, I also stop the bottom auger with its paddle-plate on a downward cycle,” he says.
“It allows the auger to start turning easily when you next come to unload.”
With most of his 200-hectare contract maize harvest safely gathered up the conventional way, he says the latter part of the season has been horrific.
Customer crops have been under water, and barely accessible following one of the wettest autumn periods on record.
Without the maize chaser solution, it is likely that remaining fields would have been left standing, simply unable to be accessed for harvest.
“The maize chaser has brought us a huge number of advantages,” says Mr Collins.
“It has dramatically reduced the amount of mud being taken out on the roads.
“By parking trailers in field gateways and transferring maize, we have now got that issue covered.
“But more importantly, the chaser has given us access to fields which we simply would not get across with trailers.
“It sits on 800/45 R26 tyres, and is almost too light when empty, as the tyres can sometimes slide rather than roll.
“When full, you can barely see where it has been.”
Payload is a modest 10t of maize, and with only one chaser, there is some waiting time for the chopper as crop transfer takes place. But for Mr Collins’ customers, there is solace knowing that the crop is able to be harvested.
Running the pto at just 350rpm, Mr Collins says the chaser is proving an extremely useful solution.
“It is not about output, but progress,” he says.
“Through some trial and error, I have put the vibrating plate on 14-second bursts using a spool valve, so I can apply controlled vibration only when needed.
“I watch what comes out of the unloading auger and go from there. It takes around five to six minutes to empty the bin.”
It is not just trailers which have been a challenge during the maize harvest – the forager is more hippo than ballerina– though Mr Collins’ Claas Jaguar 860 only carries a Krone eight-row header.
“Yes, it will handle a much larger header, but that also means more weight,” he says.
“I would rather keep forward speed up when the going gets soft.”
He adds the Krone header takes much less power to drive than any other he has used, and believes it is worth another 70hp at the chopping cylinder.
While 800 tyres would appear to be a useful solution over the Jag’s 650’s, the wider tyres do not suit Mr Collins’ willow harvesting regime. So to prevent mud from building up inside the front wheels and hubs, the team swapped the forager’s wheels from one side to the other.
“There is a huge offset on the wheel dishes, and swapping them left-to-right and vice-versa, has created clearance on the inside, which stops mud from building up,” he adds.
“It has increased the forager’s wheel track width adding stability too, and this also prevents the rear wheels following in the squashed footprint of the fronts.”
As a result, he says the forager rides so much better and traction from the four wheel drive system is reckoned to be much more positive.
“All these small gains add up to providing a practical solution for our customers – even if it is much later in the season and far wetter than we would all like,” he says.