There’s more to stripper headers than just leaving tall residue behind to catch the snow and hold it in. That moisture is still in the soil, when producers plant seed in the spring.
“In more arid climates, stripper headers are useful for leaving tall residue which catches snow and shadows the soil,” said Jay Fuhrer, NRCS soil scientist based in Bismarck.
That residue is what protects the soil, one of the main components of no-tilling, which is the most common method of planting small grains and pulses in the Northern Plains.
“Residue plays the role of armor on the soil,” Fuhrer said.
Producer Steve Szudera combined his durum, spring wheat, white proso millet, barley and yellow mustard (in previous years) and with limited success some pulses with his Shelbourne Reynolds stripper header.
“A lot of people don’t realize soil health starts in the fall with residue and managing your residue,” Szudera said.
Szudera likes to leave as much residue as possible on his soil after harvest. His stripper header harvests only the grain, and leaves the entire residue even across the field, not ground up in mats.
Longer residue moves slowly into the soil to feed the microbial processes, and helps with increasing organic matter, infiltration and water-holding capacity.
Traditional headers grind the straw in the threshing process, and then try to spread it back.
“In heavy residue years, this can create too much of a blanket in some areas and bare spots in others,” Szudera said. “Combines don’t always spread the chaff adequately, and that is not the best for soil cover.”
The stripper header also saves fuel, which in turn saves money.
“You use less fuel with the stripper header, because the combine is not working as hard and running through all the material. You can combine more acres per hour, but use less fuel,” he said.
Szudera said he finds it is easy in the spring to seed into tall residue.
At Shelbourne Reynolds Inc., in Colby, Kan., Daniel Morris, general manager, said the way the Shelbourne stripperheader operates is a rearwards (toward the back) rotating rotor with eight rows of stripping fingers strip grain from the crop as the combine moves the head forwards while it spins backwards.
“The stripper header removes just the head of grain, leaving the rest of the plant standing to help store precipitation and protect against erosion,” Morris said.
The header fits on all kinds of combines.
The three types of stripper headers include the XCV, the CVS, and the RSD, intended for different types of crops and different widths of header.
Research studies with stripper header
Studies with a stripper header have demonstrated yields don’t decrease with using the header; yields in the crops following harvest with a stripper header increase; and the headers do provide both economical and soil benefits.
In Akron, Colo., USDA-ARS scientists at the ARS Central Great Plains Research Station researched the stripper header compared to a traditional header for producers in the area.
These producers in the region wanted to know if the stripper header would work better for them in their arid, dry, windy climate versus a traditional header. Traditional combine headers cut off most of the plant stalk with a sickle and leave the stubble short.
The scientists conducted a four-year experiment with the headers harvesting proso millet.
At the end of the study, they found yields were the same with both headers.
In addition, scientists found the stripper header left an 18-inch tall stubble, compared to 3-4 inches left with the traditional sickle bar header.
There were 2 tons per acre of residue measured with the traditional header, versus 3 tons per acre of residue with the stripper header.
The extra stubble captured more snow and moisture and better protected the soil from the wind.
Since millet is harvested in two operations, swathing the plants into windrows, and going back to pick up the grain, the stripper header saved fuel and labor because there was no need to swath the crop.
Another research project conducted by Kansas State University in Tribune, Kan., compared a stripper header with a straight cut header, and studied yields gained the following year from the taller residue.
Researchers found on dryland corn the following year, there was an increase of 30 bushels per acre with the stripper header versus the straight cut header.
Researchers have found yield increases of from 4.5-8.25 bushels/acre, depending on the crop, because of water savings from taller residue that is present in the spring during planting.
Wheat Montana a ‘farm to bakery’ operation
Outside Three Forks, Mont., the Folkvord family has been at the forefront of Wheat Montana, composed of a facility with grain cleaning, processing, flour milling, and a bakery. The ag operations produce some of the nicest grains in the state on the dryland fields, and include a “farm to table” bakery.
Wheat Montana purchased two stripper headers some years ago, and harvested 6,000 acres with each header.
All of the Wheat Montana farm acres are dryland acres so residue (stubble) is very important to them.
“The more residue and especially tall, standing residue, like what is left behind after you harvest with a stripper header, the more moisture the ground retains, leading to better crops in the future,” said a NRCS representative who visited Wheat Montana. “Tall standing residue also cuts down on wind soil erosion by slowing the wind speeds at the soil level.”
The Shelbourne stripper header was created in the mid-80s, when Keith Shelbourne designed a derivative of the rotary head fitted to the company’s field pea harvesters.
First models of stripper headers
The first models were put on the market in the UK in 1989. The Kansas base was established in 1996 and serves as a sales office, machine storage facility and parts distribution center.
It supports all of Shelbourne’s customers in the U.S. and Canada, according to Morris.
The first 20-foot header sold in Kansas in 1993, was mainly used as a disaster recovery tool to assist with harvest after hailstorms had ripped through the wheat belt and laid large areas of crop on the ground.
A 28-foot header was introduced in 1995 and western wheat belt producers began to recognize the benefits of stripped residue in their no-till farming systems.
Fuhrer worked for the NRCS field office in Dickinson, when Beach-area producers, including Szudera, started no-tilling a few decades ago. They were losing soil to the wind, and water ran right off the soil. Those initial producers thought a lot about soil health, and what it would take to get there.
“These producers were going strong with no-till, and they were dedicated to soil health,” Fuhrer said. “No-till stabilized the land from wind and water erosion.”
Fuhrer believes cover crops are very important and “vital” to soil health, and Szudera also puts in cover crops for diversity.
From no-till to diversity, to residue, to cover crops, and even stripper headers, producers like Szudera have been working for many years to improve soil health and save money on their farms and ranches.