Recovery Method

The Carlsons now know that when a crop is down, it’s definitely not out.

 The first time the Carlsons tried a MacDon draper header in 2002, they were less than impressed. A late August storm had knocked down some of their milo so they thought they’d give MacDon’s new draper concept a try to see if it could recover the crop.

“Nobody around here had draper headers at the time, and we didn’t know much about them ourselves,” said Dusty Carlson who co-owns the Carlson’s Arkansas farm with his father Mike and brother Kirby. “Our dealer brought out a used one for us to demo. We were trying to pick up the milo under just horrible conditions, and the unit performed terribly. We cussed at it and didn’t like it all. But it turns out that the header was just worn out.”

It wasn’t until a few years later when the Carlsons bought a couple of used 21’ (6.4m) MacDon draper headers through a farm sale that they first began to appreciate what they could do.

“We initially bought those first heads just to cut our rice, but we quickly started cutting our beans with them as well. We noticed a world of difference between them and the augers we had been using before. The feeding was just so much more uniform and the problems we had with the auger choking the combine were gone.”

“In beans, the smooth feeding also allowed us to start cutting at least an hour earlier in the morning and go at least an hour later in the afternoon compared to that table auger.” The next year, when MacDon came out with coil springs for the suspension, the Carlsons finally committed to buying new FlexDrapers for the first time – a decision they haven’t looked back from.

“We were really happy with how coil springs helped the header float and follow the contour of the ground better. With that model we started using FlexDrapers to cut everything we had – milo, wheat, rice and soybeans. From there we’ve just upgraded to bigger sizes as our combines have gotten larger as well.”

Older than his brother Kirby by 20 months, Dusty (35) holds both a business and Masters degree in agriculture and describes himself as “a 366 day a year farmer.” While Kirby maintains a full-time banking job in Memphis, and helps out on the farm after work and during planting and harvest, the day to day management of the farm is split between Dusty and his father Mike (63).

“After college Kirby chose the banking route and I chose the farming thing because it is what I really enjoy doing. We’re still flipping quarters on who made the best decision.”

The family farms approximately 8,500 acres (3440ha) of land on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi, about 10 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee. Currently, about one quarter of their land are assigned to rice production, and the remainder to soybeans, as low commodity prices have led them to drop milo and wheat from their rotation in recent years.

“You can see the Memphis Bridge and Pyramid from some of our land. It’s all within one county, probably 16 or 17 miles (26 or 27km) north to south. Luckily it is in large blocks, so we don’t spend too much time on the road.”

For harvesting the Carlsons rely on two 35’ (10.7m) MacDon FlexDrapers mounted on Case 8230 combines. At time of interview they were awaiting delivery of their third purchase of FlexDrapers.

“Before we started using FlexDrapers we used to have to purchase two types of headers; rice headers, which were rigid auger types, and wider table augers for our beans. Now we only have the one type of header that we use for our entire operation.”

More than just eliminating the cost of maintaining a second set of headers, Carlson says that their FD75s provide unique advantages for the harvesting of their beans and rice respectively.

“In beans, the smooth feeding of our FD75s have allowed us to increase our header width from 30’ (9.1m) to 35’ (10.7m). This has allowed us to maintain high productivity with our combines, while also reducing our speed so that we can do a better job cutting.”

Carlson says that some may question the need for a flex head given that most fields in their area are flat and precision leveled.

“We have about 1,000 acres (405ha) that lie near the river behind a levee where there is enough contour so that a flex head is needed. We also tend to plant right up to the road on all of our fields, so we need that extra little bit of flex to help us get all of our crop, especially our soybeans. These Flexdrapers have allowed us to recover crop that we might not have gotten with our previous headers.”

Carlson reports that their FlexDrapers have also performed well in the muddy conditions that the area is known for, mostly the result of late summer storms that can blow up from the Gulf of Mexico.

“You hear about people with other headers that, when it gets too muddy, they start pushing mud or pushing leaves thanks to too much ground pressure. But with the way the MacDon header is set up, we have never had a problem with them in the mud.”

In rice the FlexDraper’s advantages are, perhaps, even more significant. 

“The primary thing the FlexDrapers do over the auger is give us a consistent flow in rice, so the combine doesn’t slug anymore, even when we’re picking up more residue because we’re cutting on the ground to pick-up downed crop. With these FlexDrapers the combine’s RPM stay up so we’re no longer losing grain out the back.”

Even more impressive for the Carlsons is how their FlexDrapers are letting them get more crop after storms have lodged their rice. 

“With our previous augers, we’d be choking our combine and burning belts when our rice was on the ground. We’d have to go very slow and still only be getting, at best, 75% recovery. But not anymore. These FD75s let us put the reel almost as far as it will go forward and down on the ground and still have our header six to eight inches (15cm to 20cm) higher, letting us pick up the rice and feed it into the combine. We have been in situations where our rice is laying just an inch off the ground and they have performed for us. In downed crop our efficiency has increased by at least 300%. More important, we’re now getting 99% of the crop. It’s a win-win all around.”