Larry Van Slyke has been direct seeding since1995 on his farm near Red Deer, Alberta. Larry is a member of the Rainy Creek Conservation Club and a director for the Alberta Conservation Tillage Society. Larry and his father Floyd started direct seeding a few acres of their farm and gradually built on their success.
The savings in manpower, fuel and machinery wear were all motivation to try direct seeding. The practice fit with the Van Slyke’s desire to conserve their soil. The need to reduce the workload on their farm became a driving factor in their decision.
It was this very reason that spurred Larry to purchase a stripper header for their 8570 Massey rotary combine.
“In 1996 we had an awful Fall with heavy crops and we ended up running two combines. We didn’t have the manpower. So, we started thinking of different ideas.”
Larry and Floyd saw a neighbour reduce his equipment from two combines to one with a stripper header attachment. “The combine is made for handling grain but is slow at handling straw,” explained Larry. The header seemed like a good investment and so Larry purchased a Massey stripper header for $30 000.
Larry Van Slyke
The Van Slyke farm has a very short growing season and a narrow harvest window. The stripper header has increased their harvest efficiency. “The ground speed is faster with the stripper header because we are only putting the grain through the combine. Generally, we run 1.5 mph faster than we did picking up a swath, a difference of 40 acres/day,” says Larry. Now the Van Slyke’s harvest the whole farm with one combine.
“We use the stripper header for everything but the canola which we swath,” explains Larry, “We also have an old straight cut header we use for very heavy residue when we don’t want to bale.” This slower operation gives the Van Slykes the option to harvest grain & manage straw in one operation. “We put the straight-cut header on the same combine,” he says, “It is very easy to change.”
Over the years, Larry and Floyd have refined the rest of their system to work with this unique method of harvesting.
Larry seeds barley, CPS wheat, canola, peas, mixed hay and oats. “We grow six row barley because the straw breaks down more easily,” says Larry. “We try to grow semi-dwarf varieties with the theory of growing grain and not straw.” The result is less residue to manage behind the combine.
Using a stripper header trades efficiency in gathering grain for the convenience of being able to manage residue with a single harvest operation.
The stripping operation harvests some straw and chaff.
“We spread the straw the full width of the 20 foot header,” explains Larry. “Some chaff is spread through the factory straw chopper but we can still see chaff rows sometimes, so that could be improved.”
Larry uses different post-harvest management following the stripping operation depending on what crop he harvested and what crop he is planning to seed.
“Peas leave very little residue behind the combine and barley straw breaks down quickly,” explains Larry.
Wheat straw usually requires a separate operation to manage. “On a year with average moisture, we would swath and bale behind the stripper header on our higher organic matter soils (manured land) or where we wanted to plant canola the next year,” says Larry. The decision to bale is also based on whether or not there is a market for the straw. “We prefer to swath the straw ourselves and leave 6-8 inches of stubble for snow catch.”
“We have a pull-type swather with no canvases we run when we have too much residue to seed through and don’t want to bale,” continues Larry. “We go back in after we’ve harvested all the grain to manage the straw so it’s an extra operation.”
“One year, I rented a rotary mower for the same purpose and it worked well,” remarked Larry. It is one option to manage residue and prepare the seed bed if there isn’t a market for straw. Larry used it on higher land where he didn’t want to remove the straw.
“When it is dry like last year, we left 16-18 inches of straw with the stripper header and seeded right through it.”
Larry has found that anchored stubble is easier to seed through than straw that is spread. “Standing stubble catches snow and shelters young plants from the elements,” explains Larry. “That’s why we don’t use a heavy harrow because it makes a mattress of the residue which is harder to seed through.”
The Van Slyke’s had a Morris air drill with 10 inch row spacing but they had some trouble seeding through long, heavy residue. “We switched to a Flexi-Coil 5000 with 4 inch paired row openers and 12 inch spacing to help us get through the residue,” says Larry.
Harvesting with the stripper header
Larry always uses pre-harvest glyphosate on a portion of their acreage. “When we start seeding, the soils are cool and there is usually nothing growing yet,” says Larry. “We start seeding the land that received pre-harvest the year before. Then, we will do a pre-seed burn on the later seeding.”
“It’s like driving a vacuum cleaner!” That’s how Larry describes operating a stripper header. “You can’t see what you’re doing. The bonnet on the front is adjustable. If it is too low, it can push the crop down. If it is too high, it throws the grain out in front of the combine.”
“Fingers strip the head running opposite the direction of travel and throw the grain back over into the auger,” explains Larry. “You can change the speed of the rotor for the fingers. We slow it down for peas to avoid damaging them. Rotor speed also depends on ground speed.”
Harvest efficiency is different when you use a stripper header on your combine. Basically, ground speed is limited by how much grain you throw over, what the return elevator can handle and how much power you have in your machine. Larry explains:
“It is the ability to handle the grain, not the straw that is limiting. Going through a green patch, it doesn’t slow you down because you’re not putting the straw through.”
Plugging can sometimes be a problem.
“A patch of chickweed sure can slow you down,” says Larry. “You can plug up in lodged crop or even wet peas when it pulls them out at the roots.”
Some of the benefits of the stripper header are similar to that of a straight-cut header. “After a rain, we can start quicker than picking up a swath,” explains Larry. “In the evening, it’s the reverse.” Larry and Floyd had looked at straight–cut headers but they chose the stripper header because they thought it would work better with peas.
“It does work better but it is too rigid compared with the new flex-headers,” admits Larry.
A company named Shelbourne now makes a flexible stripper header for harvesting pulse crops. “Our stripper header is 20 feet so it does follow the land better than a wider rigid header,” says Larry. The short header is also easier to move from field to field.
The fingers are fairly expensive to replace. Larry is on his second set but he points out that Shelbourne makes fingers with a metal backing to extend the life. Compared to their old system, Larry believes the maintenance with the stripper header is similar. The stripping operation has placed much less wear on the combine and has extended the life of the swather.
Larry says the major benefits of using the stripper header are increased speed of harvest, decreased wear and tear on the combine and reduced labour requirement.
The major challenges with Larry’s machine are managing residue behind the combine, and the header is too rigid for stripping peas under certain conditions.
The Van Slyke’s have successfully developed a system for harvesting grain with both the benefits of the stripper header and the flexibility to respond to various field conditions. Larry’s advice is: “If you’re going to buy a stripper header, have a plan for dealing with residue behind the combine.”
Larry's stripper header in wheat