As yet another catchy harvest season has challenged men and machines, Jane Carley finds out how the latest combines are equipped to help growers make the most of their capacity.
Technology is being adopted to good effect on a Suffolk arable farm with an expanding combinable crops acreage.
Home Farm Nacton specialises in vegetables, with 40 different crops grown on 1,650 hectares near Ipswich, and taking on additional land will see cereals boosted from 472ha to 670ha by next year.
Farm manager Andrew Williams says: “This has brought forward a planned investment in a new combine harvester as we need more capacity.
“Soil types are varied from blowing sands to heavy marshland, so we have a relatively long harvest window, and we aim to get a second crop in for a later harvest where possible.”
The 503hp Claas Lexion 760 TT delivered in July is the farm’s first tracked combine harvester, giving the narrow footprint needed to negotiate increasingly urbanised routes to the field and also offering a light tread for the heavier land.
Rotary separation using Claas’ APS and Roto Plus systems is another important feature, giving the required throughput and the ability to handle a wide range of crops from wheat to organic peas.
“We chop about half of the straw and the other half goes to a local contractor in exchange for muck – the separation system is relatively gentle on the straw and he has been happy with straw quality so far.”
The 9.2-metre Vario header has an extendable table with 50cm extra length for rape and a 660mm diameter reel, which operator Liam Akers thinks is a big improvement on the previous combine.
“The Cemos system gives settings for specific crops or conditions and then activates them which really helps when you are getting to know the combine; I can then fine-tune within these settings – for example to reduce the fan speed in the heat of the day and then increase it again as the crop gets damp into the evening,” says Mr Akers.
“But in especially tough conditions, such as when we were struggling to set the header to cope with the straw in some winter barley which was not quite fit, Claas has such a bank of experience it can always come up with suggestions to improve performance.”
He also praises the consistency of separation achieved on more sloping land using the 4D system which gives incline-dependent control of rotor flaps and automatic fan control, minimising losses.
“Cruise Pilot is another good feature, increasing or decreasing forward speed to keep the header full when you meet thicker or thinner patches of crop – you can’t always spot a heavier patch but the system does it for you. The Cebis monitor controls all of the major driving and operating functions, including the machine settings via rotary switches – it’s a lot to get used to but I’m getting there.”
Combine guidance is also new to Home Farm, and Mr Williams says they are already seeing benefits from the RTK Auto Pilot system installed on the Lexion, making better use of the wide header, allowing the operator to focus on harvest quality and reducing fatigue during long days.
“We can always see where Liam is, and I can monitor how well the combine is performing, and its fuel level and usage without having to call and interrupt him. The tractor drivers know exactly which field to head for, and given the health and safety issues of lone working, it also provides reassurance,” he explains.
Each day’s harvest data report is automatically emailed from Claas to Mr Williams for his records and he adds it is also useful to keep the company’s directors informed of how the harvest is progressing.
Yield maps are downloaded via a data card in the Cebis monitor for integration with Gatekeeper using Claas’ Agromap Start software; a printer in the cab allows a ‘ticket’ to be produced for the day’s work or even for an individual field’s results.Yield data is also automatically transmitted through the Telematics system.
A move from three combines to two in 2015 meant F.W. Rowe and Sons needed a higher capacity machine, so two New Holland CR9090s and a CR9080 were swapped for a pair of new CR10.90s, each packing 635hp from the FPT Cursor 16 Tier 4B engine and with 12.5m Varifeed headers and 14,500-tonne grain tanks.
David Rowe says: “The smaller combine was starting to cost money, and while it is sometimes convenient to run three machines, we can manage with two. Reducing the numbers also made it feasible to purchase the CR10.90 which comes with the SmartTrax track system."
Mr Rowe, who harvests 2,000ha of combinable crops on his own and rented land plus contracts around Tamworth, Staffordshire, points out as well as easier travelling on increasingly busy roads and reduced compaction, tracks have a further advantage on a high capacity combine.
“With the Terraglide track suspension, stability is much improved, which is very noticeable with wider headers – on a wheeled combine it’s easy to drop into a rut, whereas the tracks ride over the ground and the header sits better.”
With almost half of the acreage being down to wheat, he says there is considerable pressure on the combine, so any technology which helps boost output is of benefit.
“GPS guidance and auto-steer are very useful tools to get the most out of the wide header, and the IntelliSteer system features a curved track feature so you can record a curved harvesting line and repeat it across the field rather than trying to track straight and cut smaller blocks in an irregular-shaped field.”
IntelliSteer and yield mapping are controlled and monitored via dedicated screen on the cab pillar in the CR10.90.
“I found I was constantly flicking between the screens on the IntelliView on the previous combine, but now the guidance and yield information is available at a glance.”
Automatic Header Height Control is picked out as one of the most important features offered by the CR10.90.
This system has three operational modes: Compensation Mode uses a pre-established ground contact pressure which is hydraulically maintained for use in laid or low growing crops such as peas and beans; Automatic Stubble Height Control maintains a pre-set stubble height by using sensors located on the elevator together with the hydraulic header control cylinders and Autofloat uses a combination of sensors which ensure the header follows uneven terrain and automatically adjusts its position hydraulically to maintain uniform stubble height and to prevent the header digging into the ground.
“It is all activated by three buttons on the armrest, along with settings for reel height and speed plus fore and aft tilt. This system makes a significant difference to the driver’s ability to handle such a wide header – I don’t believe it’s possible to react as quickly to changes in the crop or terrain as the electronics do.”
The CR10.90s have also been specified with New Holland’s Dynamic Feed Roll ahead of the rotors which is designed to improve feeding efficiency and stone detection effectiveness, with stones automatically directed by a 45cm diameter closed beater into a stone trap located between the feeder and rotors. Featuring serrated blades for gentler crop and straw handling, Mr Rowe says the roll also smooths crop flow, especially in the damp conditions of night harvesting.
He likes the latest CommandGrip handle which is now operated by force-based movement.
“It just needs a nudge to change speed or direction and then returns to its neutral position. The only disappointment is the buttons are quite rubbery and don’t have such a good feel as on the previous handle so are less precise.”
The IntelliView monitor is also used to set and recall pre-installed settings or programmed harvest parameters for each crop Automatic Crop Setting, with 50 crop-specific settings.
“You can set and save reel speed and position, rotor speed and concave setting, sieve opening and cleaning fan speed, which can be useful,” Mr Rowe adds.
With some undulating land to cover, another handy feature is the Opti-Fan system which compensates for the gravitational effects on crop material during harvesting.
“You can select the fan speed on flat ground, and the system automatically takes the wind speed off when going uphill to prevent sieve losses, and puts it back on downhill to stop crop building up on the sieves; the two settings can also be activated manually.”
The rotary separation system brings some unexpected benefits – Mr Rowe says the combine stays very clean inside, not getting clogged in conditions such as green rape in the way his straw walker machines did, while the action of the rotors produces a very even straw swath appreciated by baling contractors – with plenty of livestock in the area all of the barley straw and most of the wheat straw is baled.
Wide headers need long augers, and Mr Rowe is impressed with the adjustable chute which allows him to direct the flow more precisely into the trailer and also folds up at the end to prevent crop dribbling out at the end of a run.