SERVICING the knives of your header this harvest will be the difference between putting money in the bank and throwing it on the ground, according to Glen Riethmuller from the Agriculture and Food Department's Dryland Research Institute in Merredin.
Grower discussions at the WA No-Tillage Farmers Association (WANTFA) spring field day in Cunderdin last week surrounded the importance of getting the most out of short cereal crops that had survived drier than expected growing conditions.
"There's no doubt that crops around the State will be shorter this year and anything we can do to improve things is worth having a look at," Mr Riethmuller said.
Come harvest growers will embrace Mr Riethmuller's advice by keeping knives sharp and making sure they touch the bottom ledger plate properly to ensure the best cut possible.
"Either do it yourself or get your dealer to have a good look at it," Mr Riethmuller said.
"Usually it means taking the knife out and getting all the guards lined up, but if it's not cutting properly like a pair of scissors in a short crop it will tear off and propel the heads forward onto the ground.
"It's more important in a poor crop than it is in a good crop and the knife is definitely the key."
Mr Riethmuller said the second most important factor in maintaining as much grain as possible in the header front was to get the material off the knife once it had been cut.
"It will just sit there and that's where we've been looking at plastic pieces to bolt onto the reel, staggered around to help sweep the knife area clean," he said.
"One piece per section is enough, we tried putting more on but it adds extra wind blow to the reel and you don't want to wear the reel out."
One interested grower suggested the use of gutter guard which Mr Riethmuller described as "not a bad idea at all."
"Gutter guard can be zip-tied onto the finger tine reel to help sweep material off the knife area and back into the front," Mr Riethmuller said.
"Bat reels are not as common but still, anything like gutter guard could even be bolted to a bat reel although I'd probably only suggest using one section staggered around the reel for balance.
"That could still help sweep the material in.
"Air reels are great but they cost money and not too many people have money to burn this year.
"But for those who have an air reel it's the best of the lot because the air will just blow the material back into the front of the header."
Double density knife guards and extension fingers were recommended for wide knife guard sections to help cut crop material evenly and to reduce plant shake.
Running a slower drum or rotor speed with close concaves was also suggested to improve threshing.
"A comb with a belt front rather than a tin front will generally have a bit of a problem in shorter crops," Mr Riethmuller said.
"Sometimes there's a bit of a problem in the centre and some growers have bolted tin in there to fill up the gap so the material can fall in easier.
"That's worth having a look at as well."