Most of us have been guilty of drooling over the latest 600hp, £500,000 harvester at some point, but in reality there are plenty of old-timers that’ll do the job just fine.
And while those spanking new machines get a warranty, tracking down replacements for some of the 1,500 moving parts for those combines with a few thousand drum hours under their belt can be a needle-in-a-haystack job.
It often means paying over-the-odds for a new part sitting on a shelf in Germany that will take a few days to arrive. But there’s a good chance a perfectly good worn-in version could be on your doorstep the following day from a UK combine breaker.
And, like savouring a bottle of Pinot Noir with a wedge of Stilton, some things are just as good once they’ve had a few years to mature.
But unlike the wine, you can pick up an older combine part for a fraction of the price of a new one.
After all, a £2,500 bill for new shaker shoe is tough to stomach especially if the combine is hardly worth that itself. A pre-loved version could come in at well under half that sum.
With 350 harvesters gently rusting at his 2.8ha combine drivers’ Mecca near Alnwick, Northumberland, John Manners claims to be the largest breaker in the UK.
How did it start?
On the hunt for a replacement set of wheels for his digger in 1974, Mr Manners snapped up an aging MF 500 combine. With the wheels gone, it didn’t take long for the rest to be stripped down by local farmers. Fast-forward 38 years and he has a stock of makes and models as long as your arm, all in various states of undress.
Some are just worn out from gobbling up hundreds of acres each year, while as many as half – often the modern ones – are fire damaged.
Are whole combines sold?
Most arrive on site in one piece but they rarely leave that way, unless there is an especially fine specimen in full working order. Particular parts are usually taken off machines as they are ordered. That way it saves space and means the five-man team can keep a close eye on what’s in stock.
A quick call and one of the team will set out on an ATV with a trailer carrying the gas-axe and a few other heavyweight breaking tools for the disassembly job.
Headers are regularly sold intact and Mr Manners will often buy them in separately to make sure there is a good stock at the yard.
How many combines pass through the yard?
About 50 combine shells leave the yard each year, often cab-less and gutless, to make way for 50 “new” ones.
It’s not just vintage combines that wash up at Mr Manners’ yard. Sat only a few metres from a 1960s Laverda-built Bamford Landlord is a well-cooked Lexion with half-a-harvest’s experience.
Often these younger combines end up parked in the yard for a few more years while warranties on similar machines run out. There’s also a bit of a delay as owners are loath to bolt a second-hand bit to a gleaming combine. This year, John’s son Richard has decided to add to the firm’s Lexion offering. Having modern models on the shelf can mean big bucks, often earning more than twice their scrap value.
“A lot of the combines will hang about on site for five to six years,” says Richard. “We’ve got several that have been parked up for as long as 12 years, but their innards will be wanted eventually.”
Most stay in the UK, but up to 30% end up shipped further afield. “Asia, Africa and eastern Europe have enormous markets for spare parts,” says John. “This is usually because there’s an abundance of cheap skilled labour that means non-running engines can be fixed up for a fraction of the price it would cost in the UK.”
For those that stay in the UK, Mr Manners reckons he can have them on your doorstep by 9am the following day.
“We pack off about 10 boxes of bits each day by TNT,” says John. “We have a haulage firm, too, which can be handy for dealing with bulkier items like reels and headers.”That’s ideal for longer hauls – while we were in the office a call came from a Devon farmer looking for a new reel.
Interestingly, Mr Manners reckons you can follow the harvest up the country. Panicked voices at the end of the line start to come in in July from Kent and end in Inverness in October (although things might be running a little later this year).
Which are the most popular parts?
Engines and wheels tend to fly off the shelves quickest. Power plants rarely wind up in another combine. Instead they tend to be bought to run irrigation pumps.
Scrapping disembowelled combines is a fine balance. John and Richard must decide when the combine has outstayed its welcome and move it on to make space for a more popular model.
You can usually pick up a part for about half of the new price. Pricing old bits is tricky business and obviously depends on their condition, so prices tend to be negotiable.
Alternatively, the Manners produce refurbished parts such as grain pans, table and unloading augers to make sure there are also stocks of important spares when harvest arrives.
Grain pans get a completely new middle to slot into the frame for a cost of £200, rather than the £780 Claas would charge.
So if your combine gets green around the gills this summer, give a combine breaker a call.
| ||New ||Second-hand|
|Grain pans ||£2,500 ||£800|
|Unloading augers ||£2,500 ||£900|
|Engines ||£5,000+ ||£1,000+|
|Straw walker cranks ||£1,200+ ||£350+|
|Sieves ||£1,000+ ||£250|
|Shaker shoes ||£2,500+ ||£1,000+|