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New John Deere header design reaps rewards

A switch to a rotary combine with John Deere’s latest 600X variable header up front is proving its worth for one Gloucestershire contract farmer. Jane Carley reports.

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For South Farm Products, contract farming means delivering high quality crops year-on-year, and this influences the choice of machinery.


“Looking after our clients’ soils so that they produce consistently good yields is key,” explains farm foreman Jonathan Ducker (pictured), who also drives the combine. “We were baling and selling straw but have decided that it is more important to put the crop residues back into the soil, so have swapped to a rotary combine this year.”


The combine in question is a John Deere S685i, equipped with the company’s new 600X variable header.




“I had a variable header on a previous combine and really missed it on the Deere T series the new machine has replaced, so when I heard that the 600X was available, I was keen to try it.”


One of the main benefits of the variable header for a contract farmer is the ease of use, Mr Ducker comments: “We work across a wide area – up to 20 miles from our base in Aldsworth near Cheltenham – and most of the farms have no buildings, so we have to take everything with us. The rape knives are carried on the header and it’s a very quick switch from barley to rape or vice versa.”


The 630X offers a 9.3m (30ft) cut, the same as its conventional predecessor, but features an extendible table which adjusts from 400-1,200mm deep.




“We see very little lodging, but any flat patches can easily be lifted by bringing the knife forward if necessary,” comments Mr Ducker. “It performs really well in rape, where most of the losses occur at the header, by reaching out to pull the crop in more cleanly than a standard table.


The contour following ability of the header is also very good which helps to cope with rough patches and stones, and you can adjust the sensitivity of its float to suit conditions.”


Side knives simply clip onto the header from their storage position at the rear and are mechanically driven. “This avoids the risk of pulling wires off an electrically driven knife in the hedgerow,” he points out.

South Farm Products harvests 1,000ha of cereals each year on the tricky, thin soils of the Cotswolds, and the 2015 season has gone relatively smoothly.




“Oilseed rape came off at 4.55t/ha, and we aim for a consistent 4t/ha which has paid off on this farm where we have been working for 15 years. It’s a competitive market working for some very business-minded landowners, but we offer a totally self-contained service with our own fuel and parts always on hand and mobile grain dryers if required,” says Mr Ducker.


The four-year rotation operated for the contracts includes winter barley, oilseed rape, wheat and spring beans, but may be tweaked to suit the land. “We’ve started growing more spring barley, or in a field where an area of woodland would mean oilseed rape suffering with pigeon damage, we would swap to winter beans for example.”


Grain quality

Grain quality

He cites grain quality as more important than output, with minimal losses seen on the S685i and also appreciates the very fine residue chop achieved by the Premium Chopper specified, ideal for min-till establishment.


“Grass weeds are not too much of a problem. We still plough a third of the land, and achieve a good level of weed control with an efficient spray and cultivations programme.”


Yield maps and machine data are downloaded via a memory stick to the customer’s Gatekeeper software to help with management. The Interactive Combine Adjust (ICA) system is used to provide default harvest settings for each crop which Mr Ducker fine tunes.


High tech

High tech

“John Deere machines do come with a lot of technology, but it is straightforward to use. My sons tease me that I can barely send an email but I can operate this.”


The Hillmaster system comes into its own levelling the combine by up to 15 per cent on the steeper Cotswold banks, and the amount of adjustment helps if moving between tighter fields as the header can simply be lifted clear of hedges.


The S685i has been acquired via a lease-purchase deal, which Mr Ducker says compares well to an outright purchase when depreciation is taken into consideration, and includes all servicing and maintenance. “We just add fuel and grease the combine, and there’s also peace of mind with the provision of a replacement machine in the event of a breakdown written into the contract.”


He comments that the S685i has proved very reliable so far and has also shown fuel savings of about 10 per cent over the previous machine.



S685i combine


  • Engine: 13.5-litre, John Deere, PowerTech PSS, six-cylinder
  • Maximum power: (ECE R120) 579hp
  • Grain tank volume: 14,100 litres, unloading at 135litres/sec
  • Transmission: ProDrive automatic
  • Separation: single rotor
  • Price: S685i HillMaster combine £372,848

600X header


  • Widths available: 6.7-12.2m
  • Table adjustable: from 400-1,200mm
  • Side knives: mechanically driven and carried on header
  • Price: £45,270
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