ISE Blog

IoT Applications: Combating Header Ear Loss

For those of you that have read any of my previous blog posts, you know I have a passion for precision agriculture.  While I promise to explore other topics in upcoming posts, I wanted to present at least one more post to drive home the many areas IoT can impact precision ag. 

Dent CornOne of the largest cash crops in the United States is corn. When farmers think of a successful corn harvest they generally look at their final yield in terms of bushels per acre, often thinking of a specific number such as 200 bu/acre as a significant milestone. When trying to increase their yield without significantly increasing input costs, they focus on things like row spacing, fertilizer placement and quantity, and seeds per acre planted. While these are reasonable areas to consider, they often neglect the grain they have already produced. I’m referring to the corn ears and kernels that are knocked off the plants while harvesting and never leave the field. While there are several types of loss one can analyze, in this post I will focus on header ear loss.

Header ear loss is defined as the loss of whole or partial ears of corn from the stalk. This happens when the ear of corn is not processed by the combine and ends up on the ground as waste. It is estimated that for each full ear of corn found per 1/100th of an acre, approximately 1 bushel per acre is loss. Past analysis of harvested fields lead agronomists to estimate that farmers currently lose 3 to 4 percent of current yield to header ear loss. If harvesting behavior is modified this can be reduced to approximately 1 percent. Common causes of header ear loss include suboptimal harvesting speed (driving too fast) and incorrect header height (corn header is too high or too low). If you’re wondering where the IoT is in this post, that’s about to happen. 

Corn FieldHow can one address the causes of header ear loss? Well hello IoT! Oh, and I see you brought your friend GPS along for the fun! Alright that was corny (pun intended), but let’s explore how IoT steps up to the plate on this one. 

Recall that one can think of IoT as the digital nervous system of an application. It uses sensors to gather information, can report information to a host side system or use it on the fly, and can modify system behavior through actuators. For harvest control to reduce header ear loss, one would load a map of the field in advance of harvest. Once mapped, the contour and grade of the land is known and can be combined with the current GPS position to manipulate harvesting speed and header height dynamically. This digital nervous system would reduce header ear loss and result in a revenue increase for the farmer.  Let’s estimate the revenue increase:

  • Assume there was originally a 3.5% header ear loss
  • Assume one can reduce it to 1% by implementing our theoretical IoT solution
  • This means a reduction in header loss by 2.5% of the reported yield
  • Assume corn is $4/bu
  • Assume 1000 acres planted in corn that yields and average of 200 bu/acre
  • 2.5% * 200 bu/acre = 5 bu/acre
  • 5 bu/acre * 1000 acres = 5000 bushels
  • 5000 bushels * $4 / bushel = $20,000 in increased revenue every corn harvest!

A 20k per year increase in revenue by implementing a smarter harvesting strategy! That’s just one of the many examples where implementing a smart IoT approach can have a large financial consequence. 


Have an idea for an IoT solution or an existing one that needs some assistance? Give us a call and we’ll make your project a success. 

Hudson Ludvigson, Senior Software Engineer

Hudson Ludvigson, Senior Software Engineer

Hudson Ludvigson is a Senior Software Engineer and the Practice Lead in Vehicle Telematics at Innovative Software Engineering. He has been with ISE since March 2006. He enjoys the diversity of the software engineering field and how it impacts and improves peoples' everyday life, particularly in the domains of agriculture, business, finance, and medicine. In his downtime he can be found enjoying college football and outdoor recreational sports, or spending time with his family.