Two-for-one swap can make sense
Few machines can match a
high capacity combine for its
price tag. So does it make
sense to replace two or
more older combines with one
high capacity machine?
David Williams talks to
farmers who have made the
EIGHT years ago, the 324ha (800 acres) of cereals grown by DJ Wrinch and Sons at Shotley, Ipswich, Suffolk, were harvested by four combines.
Since then, the farms cereal area has almost doubled, and this last harvest was completed using one high capacity combine.
Before the farm took on its latest combine, a Claas Lexion 460 with 9.1m (30ft) header, the operation had been halved to two seven-year-old machines using 4.5m (15ft) headers.
"We grow winter barley, winter wheat, spring barley, and rye, with early and late ripening varieties matched to the various soil types across the farm to try to give as wide a ripening period as possible," explains Richard Wrinch.
"With this approach, we always managed to complete harvest with few problems using our old combines. We reckoned that when the two machines were due for replacement, it was an ideal opportunity to reduce costs by running one larger combine.
"Because of our cropping spread we would not be trying to handle too much, even with one machine," says Mr Wrinch.
He believes the farm should be able to rely on a modern high capacity combine to harvest 648ha (1600 acres) with little downtime. And, being 30 miles from Claas headquarters, help should be available quickly.
"We found the large header surprisingly easy to use, even in laid rye," says Mr Wrinch. "And we would consider an even wider header in the future."
None of the farms cereals are dressed before going into store, and the only change necessary to keep up with the new combine was buying an extra grain trailer.
Annual service cost
Mr Wrinch expects annual service and maintenance costs for one large combine to be less than combined costs for the previous two, and he plans to keep the Lexion for up to seven years.
Until five years ago the 730ha (1800 acres) of cereals at Rougham Estate, near Bury St Edmunds, were harvested with two combines with 5.4m (18ft) headers. Surprisingly, one New Holland TX66 with a smaller 5.1m (17ft) header is now used.
The Estates combinable crops include winter and spring barley, winter wheat, rye, linseed, rape, peas and beans. Soils vary from light sand to heavy clay and these are utilised fully to maximise the spread of ripening for harvest.
"We decided to purchase a smaller header because many of the Estates fields are small and a lot of the tracks around the estate are narrow," explains estate manager, Hugh Hordern. "We found the 18ft headers slightly too wide when the combines were being moved around. And when the new combine was purchased we anticipated that by maximising the number of hours it worked, it would replace the two older machines.
"There were concerns that having one combine would make us vulnerable to poor weather or a serious breakdown, but being a machinery ring member and having an arrangement with a local farm to borrow its under-used combine gave peace of mind."
Mr Hordern adds that neither option has proved necessary in recent years and the TX66 has coped with the workload. Operating and servicing costs are said to be much lower than the previous two-machine set-up, and harvest is completed in 400 hours with one machine instead of 300 each for the two previous combines.
"With a back-up combine from the machinery ring if required, we believe we have made a good decision in switching to one combine," says Mr. Hordern. "If money was no object, we would prefer to have two combines because of the added flexibility they afford."
For the past two years Mike Daniels of J Wharton (Agriculture) Ltd, near Alford, Lincs, has harvested more than 900ha (2200 acres) with one combine.
Cropping extends to winter barley, winter wheat, oilseed rape, and peas, and for the previous seven harvests the work was completed by two machines each equipped with 6m (20ft) headers.
Now, Mr Daniels makes full use of a Claas Lexion 480 combine with 7.6m (25ft) header, relying on two 17t grain trailers to haul grain back to the store.
"We are harvesting a greater area now with one combine than we did with the previous two, and the operation now requires three staff rather than five with the previous system," explains Mr Daniels.
And, with one combine in the field, the crops are cut with the combine working from one side of the field, rather than in lands, reducing the time spent turning on the headlands, says Mr Daniels. "When considering changing to one machine I could see definite advantages in the simplicity of managing one machine over two," he says, adding that he has been surprised by how much more efficient his harvest operation has become.
"Using two combines, time was wasted with trailers running between them, but this is reduced with only one combine to cart from. Two trailers now do the work of three, and it has proved far more efficient.
"The Lexion has covered about 340 hours this season and should we suffer a major breakdown we could be vulnerable. Our thorough maintenance policy should help to prevent this and we are confident of quick and effective back-up from our local dealer in the event of a major problem arising."
After two harvests Mr Daniels is convinced that running one machine was the right decision.
"Surprisingly, the improved efficiency has meant the two combines we replaced did not require one combine with double the capacity. A machine with 80% of the capacity of the previous two achieves a similar work rate."
Manufacturers are unwilling to give specific recommendations about the maximum area to be cut with one combine, as crop types and varieties, yields, weather and soil types mean no two farms circumstances are the same. John Gilbert, combine specialist at John Deere, says that when recommending a machine for a farm, all possible factors relating to that farm must be considered. Crop spread and the anticipated harvest window being paramount.
Lawrence Rook of Claas reckons the company has many users harvesting between 650-730ha (1600-1800 acres) with the biggest Lexions. Claas also has several farmers harvesting more than 810ha (2000 acres) but would not recommend this sort of workload without full knowledge of the particular farm.
Mr Rook adds that users are demanding much more from modern combines, and this is evident in working hours recorded.
"About 250-300 hours is now typical, whereas about 10 years ago, only 150-180 hours would have been recorded."
New Hollands Derek Gardiner agrees. "We have seen an increased demand for machines capable of working longer hours with greater emphasis on better work lights for harvesting into the night."
Mr Gardiner says that demand for wider headers is also increasing and whereas five years ago New Hollands 5.1m (17ft) header was the most popular, the best seller is now 6m (20ft). *
Richard Wrinch once used four combines to harvest 324ha (800 acres) of cereals. Over the years that followed, his arable area has almost doubled, while the combine "fleet" has been slashed to one Claas Lexion.
Take two combines into the field? An increasing number of arable growers are making the switch to one high capacity combine to replace two or more ageing models.
Hugh Hordern of Rougham Estate is pleased with his decision to use one combine on 730ha (1800 acres), but has the reassurance that there is a machine available via the local machinery ring.