2 August 2002

Big-time rotary

units cut combine costs

With 465hp, a 9.15m

header, 11,000-litre grain

tank and 945-litre fuel tank

to match, John Deeres

9880STS is said to be

the largest, most

productive combine

currently available.

Geoff Ashcroft reports

HAVING pushed one of his three combines to harvest over 800ha (2000 acres) last year – from a workload which extended to 2000ha (5000 acres) – Worcs farmer Richard Burt decided to review his harvesting operation for this season.

"We either had to take on more land and make three combines work more efficiently over 2500ha, or trim back to two and continue at the acreage we currently have," explains Richard Burt who farms 2000ha from Rotherdale Farm, Throckmorton, Pershore, which also includes contract farming agreements.

His decision to cut back from three to two combines was not an easy one – there was not yet a machine available with the harvesting capacity he required.

"I was travelling through Canada on a Nuffield Scholarship when I came across John Deeres new STS rotary combine," he says. "It offered zero losses, but lacked enough power for European conditions. UK crops are among the wettest and thickest in the world, and only a high powered rotary machine would be enough to make me change."

Deeres eventual decision to bring a higher horsepower STS model to Europe led Mr Burt to reach for the cheque book, as three John Deere combines with 7.6m headers – a CTS, 2266E and 2266 – made way for two 9880STS models with wider, 9.15m headers.

"By opting for two higher performance combines, we reduced our combine operating costs by over 20%," he explains.

"Rotary separation is the only way to get the throughput in UK crop conditions when harvesting early in the morning and at night as crops can be wet, although you do need plenty of power in such circumstances," he adds.

Both combines are identical in specification, though one model has been equipped with Deeres HarvestSmart system, which is designed to optimise performance.

"The system links four areas of combine operation – field navigation, grain damage sensor, throughput control and automatic adjustment – and we will compare the operation of both machines during harvest to establish what further productivity gains can be made," he says.

Surprisingly, keeping the two STS combines working to full capacity does not demand a lesson in logistics. Mr Burt has streamlined his operation in recent years to keep the workload as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Gone is the traditional fleet of tractors and grain trailers in preference to one 16 tonne capacity chaser bin, which shuttles grain from the combines to articulated lorries waiting by the headland.

Each truck hauls about 30 tonnes at a time back to store, where each load is weighed and sampled before being tipped.

"We check rape for oil content and wheat for Hagberg and protein levels," he says. "And using a contract haulier to run grain from field to store at a known cost and using their tyres, diesel and insurance is much cheaper than running a fleet of tractors and trailers with drivers.

"You cant farm a large acreage without good planning and infrastructure. You have to recognise what you are good at and pay others with the skills and equipment when you need assistance," he says.

Few growers will have less staff and machinery than Mr Burt for such a workload.

"We employ three men full-time and our machinery fleet revolves around four tractors, a sprayer, a telehandler and two combines," he says. "Then theres a couple of cultivators, a plough, a set of rolls and a drill."

"However, we only grow rape and wheat which is farmed in blocks of land to simplify all operations, including fertiliser movements and spraying," he says.

When farmers weekly caught up with the Burt operation, the two new combines had scythed their way through over 283ha (700 acres) of oilseed rape yielding 3.95t/ha in their first four days of operation and Mr Burt remains pleased with harvesting progress.

"Weve never been able to cut rape at up to 6km/hour without any hold ups, or losses," he says. "The combines are simply awesome performers."

Mr Burt reckons better crop flow is down to the headers larger diameter auger and additional fingers, which work aggressively in feeding crop into the combine.

"Theres no doubt that weve increased our efficiency with the STS combines, but the real test will come when we start winter wheat," he says. "I would like to see each combine average about 350 tonnes of wheat/day throughout harvest – the equivalent of about 30-35ha each day per machine – and while it is possible, I have a suspicion that one chaser bin might not be enough to keep up."

It is a scenario that could lead to a second chaser bin, which might prompt the business to take on more land and ultimately, a third STS combine, taking the Burt harvesting operation full circle. &#42

Left: Richard Burt believes his decision to swap three combines for two high capacity John Deere 9880STS models has paid dividends. "Weve reduced our combine operating costs by at least 20%," he says.

Above: Bringing it home…in their first four days of harvest, Richard Burts two 9880STS combines scythed through 283ha of oilseed rape.

In cab monitors provide detailed information about harvesting performance and combine settings.