As the first Agco Ideal combines get to work on UK farms, are they living up to their pre-launch hype? Jane Carley reports.
Forward planning of harvest policy for one Oxfordshire family farming business has seen a Massey Ferguson Ideal combine join the fleet at exactly the right time.
Crowmarsh Battle Farms has harvested 1,200 hectares of crops this season with the new combine, which replaced two MF Delta 9380 ALs.
Tim Chamberlain, who runs the farming business with father, Philip, and brother, Charlie, says: “We had one Delta initially.”
“But we added a second as we had taken on more land on a short-term contract.
“With fewer acres to cut this year, the two combines would have been too much and one not enough, but the Ideal 9PL gives the capacity we need.”
With some impressive banks to tackle, the requirement was for the wheeled ParaLevel version, which levels the header and axles on slopes up to 14 per cent. The terrain also influenced the overall specification, as Mr Chamberlain explains.
“The Power-Flow header is the smaller 10.7 metres, and the tank is the 12,500-litre capacity version – still plenty to manage on the slopes, and a step up from the Deltas,” he says.
“Our biggest trailers take just under two tank loads, so it fits in well.”
Wider 900 tyres were specified to help on sloping ground. Cropping is mainly winter barley, oilseed rape, wheat, oats, spring barley and beans, with the standard PowerFlow belt feed table said to offer plenty of versatility.
“It is the same as we used on the Delta, and I have not had to adjust it between the crops,” he says.
“It was particularly impressive in the winter barley when the straw was not fully fit.”
Mr Chamberlain also specified the high-spec IdealHarvest function, designed to automatically adjust harvest settings.
This uses information from grain quality cameras and various sensors in the threshing and separation areas to make small refinements to rotor speed, fan speed and sieve opening. It also works with the combine’s HarvestPlus system to manage forward speed, helping control grain losses and preserve the quality of the grain sample.
“Standard settings are offered when a particular crop is selected on the terminal, and I make manual adjustments according to the results I want to achieve and the conditions,” he explains.
“I have IdealHarvest running in the background to make small tweaks. It collects data from the cameras and sensors every 20 seconds, so can make adjustments that the operator would not have time to do.
“HarvestPlus works well in adjusting forward speed in flat fields, but on these steep banks I prefer to be in control.”
Enhanced output was one of the attractive claims made for the Ideal with its dual rotor threshing system and 647hp, 15.2-litre, MAN engine, and Crowmarsh Battle Farms’ 9PL has delivered an average of 70-75 tonnes per hour, with spot rates hitting more than 80t/hour on the larger, flatter fields; many are 40-60ha.
This is in some decent crops, Mr Chamberlain comments.
“Winter barley averaged 8.5-11t/ha, wheat is coming in at 9-11t/ha, although the oilseed rape has been disappointing where lighter soils meant it did not grow well in last autumn’s dry conditions,” he says.
All cereal straw is baled as part of a ‘muck for straw’ deal with a neighbour, and Mr Chamberlain reports that quality is high, with long straw, and in the winter barley threshed heads visible on the stalks.
“You can see the effectiveness of the threshing via the IdealHarvest system and fine-tune the settings,” he says.
“We spent time getting it right for the milling wheat and quality was good, with losses of about 0.4 per cent.
“It is less crucial in the feed wheat so we are at about 0.5 per cent, and I will not go above 0.8-0.9 per cent, although throughput is more important in these catchy conditions.”
The combine’s automated harvest systems are operated and monitored via the manufacturer’s SmartConnect app on an iPad, which may also be deployed for variable rate drilling after harvest.
“You could take the iPad out of the combine and use IdealHarvest from the grain cart, or it can be used by the manufacturer or dealer to see how we are getting on,” he says. “I can appreciate the principle of a manager using it to help guide the operator on improved settings, but if you are having to spend that much time managing the harvest you may as well be in the combine.”
Improvements over the Deltas include the ability to select ‘chop or drop’ from the cab and choose whether to spread the chaff or put it on top of the straw row.
Close co-operation with dealer Lister Wilder and Agco has smoothed out any glitches, and updates are also made according to the experiences of other Ideal users around the country.
“For example, one sensor bracket on the rotors was wider than the others, causing material to build up on it, so this was altered,” he says.
Mr Chamberlain also shared information with other operators as they moved into a new crop and undertook both technology and practical training on the demonstration combines earlier this year.
“It was good to have some time in the seat before the combine arrived on farm,” he comments.
Fuel consumption is about 11 litres/ha, and specifying a 1,500-litre diesel tank gives up to two days between fills.
Mr Chamberlain also praises the easy access for maintenance including a spacious platform on top of the combine for engine checks.
Managing the harvest to take account of weather conditions and available labour – with just one member of staff and a part-time operator working alongside the family – was part of the rethink on machinery policy.
“When we had two combines and two operators, we tended to wait for moisture levels to drop to 17 per cent,” he says.
“But we have invested in a new grain store with a good drying floor, so we can afford to go at 18.5 per cent and make the most of the combining capacity available to us in the knowledge that we can dry the crop.
“It is my eighth season of combining and no two years have been the same – when yields are good that puts pressure on storage capacity, and we had needed to use every shed available to us this year.”
Crowmarsh Battle Farms has kept combines for six years with two three-year contracts, but having purchased the Ideal, which is covered by a service plan, Mr Chamberlain says it will probably stay on farm for five years, depending on the acreage put through it.