Jason Reeves, who drives a Claas Lexion 480 combine at Richard Gantlett’s organic farm at Yatesbury near Calne, managed grain losses of just 48kg/ha at an average speed of 6.5kph and throughput of 28t/hour.
The annual in-field assessment of previously-trained operators is organised by trainer Tony Gardiner, who is based in Diss, Norfolk. His New Life Training firm carried out 241 in-field checks on 33 different models of combine during the 2006 harvest. He pointed out that this is was the first time that a combine operator on an organic farm has won the award.
Organic farms tend to present tougher harvesting conditions than on conventional units, thanks to longer straw and more grass weeds. On Yatesbury Lodge Farm the crops were clean but the straw relatively long and damp. Even so, Mr Reeves’ combine settings could not be improved upon, said Mr Gardiner.
Proper training of combine operators can make a big difference to output and losses, he added. In 2006 the average farm’s grain losses he encountered before training were an eye-watering 266kg/ha (63t over an average-sized 240ha farm) and a rather more bearable 55kg/ha after it.
Average forward speeds were boosted, too, from 4.4kph before training to 5.3kph after it – an increase of more than a fifth. That gives a double benefit – reducing the danger of being caught out by rain and giving more time for following crops to be drilled. More-over, since going 20% faster doesn’t increase fuel use by 20%, it should also cut overall fuel consumption.
You might think that bigger, more sophisticated combines would have cut average grain losses, but Mr Gardiner begs to differ. Over the past 10 years, grain losses on combines where he has been conducting driver training have jumped by 77%. Why? Because many drivers are still not setting their machines correctly and are driving too slowly. The higher output of modern combines simply serves to amplify those losses.
Actually measuring these losses at different points on the machine can be frightening. One exceptionally poorly-performing combine was found to be losing 250kg/ha at the header, 850kg/ha at the drum, 75kg/ha over the sieves and 240kg/ha over the straw walkers, a grand total of 1.4t/ha.
by competition organiser Tony Gardiner.