Development of a whole-stalk sweet sorghum harvester

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Virginia Tech


Sweet sorghum produces more carbohydrates and more biomass per unit land area than com in the Eastern U. S. Piedmont. An equipment system for harvesting and processing whole-stalk sweet sorghum is being developed, with the expectation that sweet sorghum can be commercialized as an ethanol feedstock.

A whole-stalk harvester was designed, constructed, and tested during the 1988 harvest season. The harvester captured a row of stalks between two counter rotating gathering belts, cut them at the base with a disk cutter (basecutter), and, at the rear of the machine, rotated the stalks 90° by capturing the stalk butts between to spring-loaded disks, called the stalk flipper. At a field speed of 6.7 km/h, the machine worked best when the flipper tangential velocity was 24 percent higher than the gathering belt Linear velocity, which was approximately (within six percent) equal to ground speed.

The harvester was pulled behind a tractor and powered with a universal joint drive line. Two computer software packages, Computer-Graphic Augmented Design and Manufacturing (CADAM) and Integrated Mechanisms Program (IMP), were used to design the hitch and drive line. Calculated angular accelerations in the 3-joint drive line were excessive during a right or left turn; consequently a constant velocity joint was used at the tractor PTO. The hitch was designed with three position settings. With the hitch in the Field 1 position, the harvester was offset sufficiently to capture a row with the gathering belts. In the travel position, the harvester trailed behind the tractor within the 2.4 m legal road width.