Using a draper header on the front of a combine rather than a conventional header can bring some useful advantages, explains Martin Rickatson

Cutterbar development is one area in which combines have remained relatively unchanged in recent decades. Suffolk firm Shelbourne-Reynolds, though, reckons that may be about to change.

The company, which imports Canadian firm MacDon’s oilseed rape swathers, has been trialling its draper headers this season. These do away with the traditional auger, using two opposing lateral belts to draw crop to the centre and a further, short longitudinal unit to convey it to the elevator.

The positive feed of such designs means they’re becoming widely adopted globally to exploit larger combines’ capacity, claims Shelbourne’s Neil Smith, who says western Europe is one of the few major regions yet to embrace draper technology.

“But the amount of crop needed to keep high-capacity combines full means positive feed is highly beneficial. The draper header concept also has other advantages – it’s hydraulically self-contained, and, for example, allows for header tilting to get underneath laid or low-podded crops.”

The first retail unit was sold this season to Jes Hansen. He contract farms the 1,600ha Tyneholme Estate, Halesworth, Suffolk, on behalf of farming business Antas, growing wheat, barley, oilseed rape, combining peas and grass seed. The 12m MacDon D60-D is fitted to a new Case IH 9230, which replaced the elder of the business’s pair of 9010 combines.

Only the reel and sideknife are powered directly from the combine, with the header’s shaft-powered, self-contained hydraulic system operating all other functions.

It also suspends the header independently of the combine, allowing it to float hydraulically and enabling a greater range of movement. That includes being able to pivot the table to position the two split-drive knives as low as possible.

“That’s been particularly useful in low-growing crops such as peas,” says farm manager and combine operator Daniel Hald. “I can get under them without bulldozing, or requiring lifters, and can also position the reel forwards and downwards so that the plastic fingers lift the crop. This and the positive feed mean outputs are probably 5-10% higher in rape, peas and grass, and at least 5% more in cereals, and in three seasons of working with draper headers, I’ve only once needed to adjust belt tension.

“At just over 2.5t – about the same as a 9m conventional unit – the header’s also very light. Not having an auger makes a big difference.”

Prices for 2012-13 aren’t yet confirmed, but retail cost for a 12m unit is around twice that of a conventional header, at approx £75,000.