Looking for greater flexibility, one contract farming business has swapped a large combine for a pair of smaller models.
Geoff Ashcroft finds out how the change is working...
If you had told arable farmer Bob Rowe 10 years ago that one day he would swap a high-capacity combine for two smaller models, he would have laughed you off the farm.
But that is exactly what happened for the 2019 harvest at the family-run Chase Farming contract farming operation based at Manor Farm, Gussage St Michael, near Blandford Forum, Dorset.
Facing a 2,000-hectare workload armed with a Claas Lexion 770TT and a 780TT carrying 10.5-metre and 12.6m headers respectively, you could be forgiven for thinking there was more than enough firepower at this third-generation farmer’s fingertips.
But a diverse rotation of winter and spring-sown crops in a contract farming business which encompasses nine locations for nine landowners, the Dorset grower needed more operational flexibility.
Mr Rowe says: “We face some logistical challenges by farming over a 12-mile radius, comprising several hundred fields measuring 2.8-57ha.
"And we have realised there is some safety margin in numbers. August is our fourth wettest month of the year. Our rainfall average, calculated over 34 year, sits at 76mm, so we need to be prepared.”
Despite the on-paper productivity of running two large Lexions, he says the 780 never fully lived up to expectations.
“The 770 arrived for the 2018 season and it simply ran rings around the older 780,” he says.
“The newer six-cylinder engine was better on fuel than the 780’s V8 and everything just seemed to flow much better.”
In addition, he says the diesel exhaust fluid system created a few headaches, and it did result in the loss of three consecutive days of harvesting in one season.
“These problems were not limited to just the 780,” he says. “We have had similar issues with a few of our Fendt tractors and, when the pressure is on, this kind of thing does test your patience.
“Over the last few years, we never could make the most of the 780, so at five years of age it was replaced with two smaller models,” he says. “And the new Tucano 580 was the obvious choice.
“I reasoned we could send all three of them in different directions to better manage the logistical demands placed on our contract farming business. And if one combine broke down, for whatever reason, we could keep two others hard at work.”
The Tucano range was relaunched last year, featuring a new top model and improved controls and automation (see panel). The latter goes some way to simplifying machine operation, with the benefit of providing a helping hand for less experienced operators. And for combine operator Scott Dixon, the combine’s clever systems have provided a huge safety net.
He says: “It is my first season operating a combine and it gives such reassurance knowing the output and settings are being monitored. The touch-screen is easy to navigate, allowing me to explore what is going on and to fine-tune settings in different crops.
“It has been an easy machine to grasp,” he says.
The Chase Farming operation works on a 30m tramline system and while a controlled traffic farming system is practiced where possible, baled straw throws a spanner in the works when it comes to compaction and traffic management.
But where straw is chopped and spread, Mr Rowe makes the most of organic matter and min-till systems to preserve soil quality. While the 770TT carries a V1050 header, the two Tucanos are fitted with V770 headers.
Mr Rowe says: “All work well within our 30m tramline system and the Tucano’s smaller headers avoid dropping straw onto tramlines. It is a neat fit, but we have been disappointed in the combine’s ability to spread chaff to the full 25ft width.”
He says the loss of rubber tracks saw the Tucanos equipped with the tallest tyres, creating a long footprint.
“I prefer tracks, particularly on our flint soils. But these smaller combines are stable in-field with 25ft headers. I think we have scaled back on size and weight to a point where it has much less of an impact on what we do.”
With three combines offering a collective 25.5m of cutting width – an increase of 2.4m – it stands to reason that output has been given a useful shot in the arm and spare capacity brings with it opportunities for growth.
Output of each Tucano has been a consistent 30-35 tonnes per hour in wheat, with support coming from a fleet of five, 14t Bailey trailers, with every load sampled, weighed and tipped according to on-farm drying and storage requirements.
“Last year’s harvest saw near-perfect conditions, but we are unlikely to see that come around again for a good few years,” he says.
“And with a catchy season, such as this one, we would still be looking at a few hundred acres of wheat if we had kept the 780 alongside the 770.
“While we do not usually operate the combines together, wrapping up the last of the harvest in one swoop makes perfect sense, when all the firepower is readily available. I am pleased to say we have worked smarter, not harder this harvest.”
ABOUT THE TUCANO
WHEN Claas upgraded its Tucano range last year, it stretched the line-up to include a new flagship complete with the firm’s APS Hybrid threshing system – the 580.
It packed a Mercedes EU stage 5 engine boasting 381hp, and featured Claas’ Dynamic Power to match the engine’s power curve to the operating conditions. As a result, idle speed dropped to 850rpm and full-load engine speed occurred at a more leisurely 1,900rpm, adding to the Tucano’s fuel efficiency.
In addition, the Tucano 580 came with an 11,000-litre grain tank, an all-new cab layout with improved Cebis touch-screen display to simplify access and adjustment of machine settings.
From a technological viewpoint, the Tucano gained the firm’s Auto Crop Flow and Auto Slope systems. Previously only available on Lexion models, Auto Crop Flow uses sensors to monitor the APS drum, grain separation, straw chopper and engine speed, alerting the operator to potential blockages or machine overload.
It is a system widely acknowledged as one which can allow the operator to more confidently push the combine closer to its limits.
The slope correction system continuously adjusts fan speed relative to the angle of the combine to produce the cleanest possible sample with minimal losses on uneven terrain, claims the manufacturer.
For example, increasing fan speed when travelling downhill, and decreasing mfan speed when travelling uphill.