When Ben Scholz started combining his wheat this spring he wasn’t expecting to flush a trio of ducks out of the field, but it didn’t really surprise him all that much, either.
It’s been that wet. So wet, in fact, that many Northeast Texas fields remained unharvested long after most producers typically would have nothing but stubble to show that wheat had ever been planted. By late June, even in some harvested fields, grain stood uncut where soggy soils made combining impossible. Low areas and seeps remained either too wet to hold a combine’s weight or held enough water to attract ducks.
Scholz lacked only a day’s worth of harvesting in mid-June, however, to finish what would not be the best crop he’s had in recent years by a long shot, but a decent one. It wasn’t easy.
A tracked combine made the difference and he had to go to Arkansas to find what he thought he needed and when that didn’t work he sold the track assembly to a neighbor and found another that fit his machine.
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“I got the idea from a YouTube video,” he says. He watched combines fitted with the track assemblies power their way through deep mud where machines with floatation tires would slip and bog down. He found a source in Arkansas, drove some 700 miles, one way, to pick up the unit and, several trailer tire blow-outs later, made it back to Lavon, Texas, and his wheat fields. Only to find that the assembly was too big for his combine.
“I sold that one to a neighbor and had the seller bring me another one,” he said. The unit he finally installed had 30-inch tracks. The first was a 36-inch unit.
Some assembly required
“I removed the dual wheels from my combine and installed the tracks,” Scholz explains. “The track assembly bolts into the same holes. I did have to get some longer bolts.”
The result was worth the effort. “It performed beyond my expectations,” he says. “Some fields with seeps and wet spots wouldn’t hold a combine. With the tracks, I just drove across the wet areas. Some of my neighbors had to leave some low spots uncut. I haven’t had to leave any wheat in the field, not a spot.”
The 30-inch tracks and the 14-inch steering tires do not rut, “even in wet spots,” he says. “Tires would bog down. Some farmers were using flotation tires, and those helped but they were still spinning.”
Moving the tracked combine from one field to another is a bit of a hassle. “Transit speed is slower but once I get in the field, I get right back to normal harvest speed.”
He says the tracks are expensive, “but they work. I don’t have four-wheel drive but it makes no difference.”
Scholz says it’s been a tough spring for Northeast Texas wheat. Producers enjoyed a good fall planting season and the crop was doing well until late winter and early spring. March and April rains set the wheat back a bit and persistent rainfall in May and into early June lowered expectations.
Scholz says his fields will yield from about 30 bushels to about 60 bushels per acre with lower than normal test weights. “Test weight is holding in the mid 50s,” he says. “That’s lower than usual.” Sprouting has been less than he expected. He’s working through sample numbers and entering figures into a spread sheet to get a better feel for sprout and test weight discount prospects.
Fungicide application also made a huge difference in wheat yield, he says. “Routine fungicide applications pay off.”
He’s convinced that without the track assembly on his combine he’d have a lot less wheat to test and probably a good bit more for the ducks.