Looking to make the most of performance, one Northamptonshire farm has chosen a MacDon FlexDraper header to improve contour following and manage stubble heights across varied topography. Geoff Ashcroft reports...
For all the performance and productivity that a wide combine header can bring, it can also deliver challenges for those with anything but totally flat fields.
This is the experience of H. Collins Farms, based at Brockhall Manor, Brockhall, Northamptonshire.
The farm grows 1,400 hectares of combinable crops including winter wheat, winter beans, oilseed rape, winter barley, spring barley and spring oats.
A further 400ha of contract harvesting is carried out, with harvesting tasks handled using two combines.
For 2019, harvest capacity has grown, with the farm replacing its older Lexion 580TT and nine-metre header with a second Case IH 9240 Axial Flow with 12.2m header.
Foreman Dave Merrill says: “We have been gradually implementing a 12m controlled traffic system across the land we farm, but doing so has required two combines with identical working widths.”
With the help of RTK steering and guidance, the farm has been gradually managing wheelings, with tramline spacings set at 36m to suit a John Deere R4040i selfpropelled sprayer.
Cultivations and drilling falls to a pair of Case IH Quadtracs with a 12m Horsch Terrano and 12m Horsch CO drill, while a set of 12m rolls takes care of consolidation.
The only missing piece of the CTF puzzle was that of the second combine and suitable header.
“We have been pleased with the previous Axial Flow and its wider header, which we have run since 2017,” says Mr Merrill.
“Tracks also give us a stable platform, and help to reduce ground pressure too. So when the time came to upgrade, having an identical machine seemed logical.”
But operating odd-sized headers over the last few seasons has also highlighted the challenges of contour following, and gave the opportunity to compare and contrast.
“There could be times when one end of the widest header could almost be above the crop, and the other end could be almost digging in,” he says. “Or the middle of the header skims over the heads.”
With field sizes ranging from 1ha to 100ha, Mr Merrill points out the farm does not have a flat field. Constant changes in topography can often mean wider headers become a compromise.
“Rolling fields make it very difficult to get all the crop with a wide header, and this leads to additional challenges with stubble heights and straw incorporation,” he says.
“Opening up field gateways to leave headers in place is one thing – but getting a 40ft header to pick up a laid crop on rolling land is an entirely different challenge.
“A smaller header is definitely an advantage on rolling ground, but it compromised output and was not suited to our CTF plans.”
The answer came in the guise of MacDon’s FD1 Series FlexDraper header, supplied by local dealer Collings Bros of Abbotsley, through its Kettering branch.
“We were upgrading from the older Lexion to a four-year old 9240 combine, and this gave us the option to choose a suitable header to fit our system,” says Mr Merrill.
“Farm owner Ross Collins and I really liked what the MacDon had to offer, with its FlexDraper header.”
The FD140 bought with the 9240 Axial Flow offers a 12.2m working width, lending itself to the farm’s CTF regime. But the header’s draper construction with two side belts and a central feed belt, means header flexibility gives a degree of contour following capability.
Bought with a small diameter upper cross auger and stabiliser wheels, the FD140 is also equipped with dual side knives to cope with bushy crops, such as OSR.
"We set the header up in some laid barley, and I thought there was no chance of getting the crop off the ground,” says Mr Merrill.
"It was flat. But the reel’s plastic fingers and the flexible approach meant the reel pulled the crop upwards and the knife got below. Job done, in any of our fields, and on any of our slopes.
“It does feed so much better too, but while output gains are perhaps negligible, the clear advantage comes from not leaving anything behind.”
In-cab controls include the ability to tweak the draper belt speeds, and he also has control of header tilt too.
“It is a really useful development, but once you have set the belt speeds for the crop and your forward speed, they rarely need touching,” he adds.
“But I would like to see the reel equipped with a reverse function.
“We have had a couple of incidents in oilseed rape, where the stalks can tangle and the overload clutch goes.
“While you can reverse the central feed auger, you cannot reverse the reel, and it would be handy just to clear the table and start again.”
He says the upper cross auger is useful in oilseed rape, but is easily de-activated by a hydraulic tap, for cereals.
“Compared to the newer 9240 Axial Flow with its standard header, this one is a breeze,” says Mr Merrill.
“It has been something of a revelation, and it does get absolutely everything, and I would not be at all surprised if we choose another FD140 for the other combine in time for next year’s harvest.”
WITH an improvement in stubble height management from the draper header, the combine has found itself with a little more material to chop and spread.
This particular model had been specified with the Canadian-built Redekop MAV straw chopper, which Dave Merrill says takes a bit of driving.
“You do notice the power requirement when unloading on the move and chopping,” he says.
“Dropping the forward speed until unloading has finished, does help.”
He says that spread width has never been a problem at 12.2 metres, even with the non-Redekop combine.
“Spreading residues to match the header has never been an issue, but we are definitely pulverising straw and chaff to a much finer degree with the Redekop,” he says.
“It does not leave chopped straw sat on top of the stubbles. And from what we have done so far, it seems much easier to incorporate greater volumes of trash.”
THE FD1 is a floating, three-section flexible header with a split reel.
Built by Canadian firm MacDon, its key elements include two side conveyors, and a central feed conveyor that works with a feed auger carrying 15cm tines.
This allows the entire header frame, cutterbar and reel to follow ground contours as one unit, flexing by up to 24.5cm on either end of the header.
A small gap between plastic reel fingers and knife is maintained at all times, says the firm, and this design maintains a close reel-to-cutterbar relationship to ensure crop is presented heads first, regardless of the amount of flexing taking place.
The manufacturer says the reel’s advanced cam delivers the ability to get under a lodged crop and pick it up before it is cut, which it claims can dramatically reduce - and in most instances eliminate – the need for crop lifters.
An active float system also reacts to changes in ground conditions, and affords close cutting without dozing soil.
Two sets of coil springs support 97 per cent of the header’s weight, and deliver 17.8cm of vertical float and 54.9cm of lateral float, independent of the combine’s feeder housing.
The multi-crop header can also be used in flex or solid frame modes, and in-cab adjustments include ground pressure, header tilt and stubble height – the latter ranging from 30-560mm with the help of skid shoes and stabiliser wheels.
Available in 9.1, 10.7, 12.2 and 13.7-metre widths, the FD1’s capability does not come cheap.
Expect to pay around 10-15 per cent more than a conventional header, though the FD1 is not restricted to one combine make – adapters are available to suit most current combine models.