Combine performance is not all about the biggest possible output – a clean sample and a manageable flow of grain to store are also key, as one Suffolk grower tells Geoff Ashcroft.
With its eight straw walkers, Massey Ferguson’s Centora 7382 is one of the largest conventional combines on the market. And for Suffolk farmer Steve Offord, it also represents one of the best value combine harvesters currently available.
Mr Offord sayd: “Compared to a hybrid combine, a straw walker machine offers so much more value. I could have almost bought two 7382s for the cost of one comparable hybrid model from another manufacturer.
“And having had demonstrations with different makes of combine, I know I get a great sample and very few losses from the Massey Centora.”
Mr Offord runs Clopton Green Farm at Rattlesden, near Bury St Edmunds. The 500-hectare farm grows about 465ha of combinable crops, with the rotation comprising winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter and spring barley, plus spring beans.
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With existing drying and storage facilities capable of accepting around 40-45 tonnes/hour, getting a blend of productivity and sample quality are high on the farm’s agenda.
“I don’t need maximum output at all costs,” says Mr Offord. “And that also means I can comfortably handle our workload with a conventional combine.
“A steady flow of grain back to store and the drier is important to avoid bottlenecks or a frenzy of activity. So we can enjoy our harvest, rather than rush head-long into a panic.”
A conventional straw walker machine, Steve Offord’s MF Centora 7382 features Auto Level. Given the farm has a few gentle slopes, the ability to self-level and keep the combine working to full capacity rather than overload one side of the drum, sieves and walkers is an essential aspect of harvesting technology.
“I would like tracks, but then I’d have to sacrifice the self-levelling system and that is a step I’m not prepared to make. Auto levelling is a huge benefit to us, and a 3D sieve system can’t hold a candle to it.”
Shod on Michelin CerexBib 800/65 R32 front tyres, and Trelleborg 600/55 R26.5 rear tyres, the Centora packs four-wheel drive for added traction and security. It is currently scything through its second harvest at Clopton Green Farm, and represents Mr Offord’s 10th MF combine.
Supplied by local dealer TNS, he adds the backup, warranty package and servicing costs all contribute to fixing the cost of ownership over a four-year ownership period, at a level he believes will be hard to beat.
Specification of Mr Offord’s 7382 is exactly as it would have rolled off the Breganze production line at the former Laverda factory in Italy. His only add-on is a Trimble screen and camera – the latter positioned to see into the top of the grain tank, to make the most of holding capacity when the full tank alarm goes off.
“We have a few fields which are 1,000 metres from one end to the other, and emptying a tank at the right time can save a lot of running around with tractors and trailers,” he says. “Being able to see down onto the grain tank does help you to know just how much further you can really go.”
Field sizes range from 1.19ha up to 69.4ha, and the installation of the farm’s own base station in 2008 to put a full RTK signal across all 500ha has transformed operational efficiency.
“Around 22% of the farm is headland, and its performance is paramount to the success of the crops we grow,” he says.
“The base station paid for itself within two years, and my Trimble screen takes care of auto-steering functions and I import our own A-B lines into the system. We make the most of every resource we can, to make our job as efficient as possible. And that means using every inch of the combine header.”
Clopton Green Farm’s 7382 AL is also a ‘Gen II’ version, which has had most of its electronically-engaged functions replaced by hydraulic actuation, leading to increased durability and better control, according to the manufacturer.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s very close,” says Mr Offord. “Apart from the very occasional software bug – which is being ironed out – the combine is great. And we do get upgrades from the factory when they become available.”
One aspect he particularly likes is there is no daily greasing requirement for the Centora.
“Those components which do need lubrication every 50, 100 and 250 hours, are centrally grouped and very easy to reach,” he says. “So daily maintenance comes down to oiling a chain on the header, blowing the radiator clean and filling the fuel tank.”
See also: Harvest finish line now in sight
He also appreciates the simplicity and smooth areas of design which make combine cleaning a much less tedious task than it might be on other makes.
“It takes about 80-90 minutes to clean the combine properly when moving from crop to crop, and for me, this is an essential part of keeping the farm clean and free from volunteers,” he says.
Packing 404hp from its six-cylinder AGCO Power engine, the Centora 7382 Auto Level combine also features Constant Flow cruise control and for Mr Offord, a 7.7m PowerFlow header complete with belts to feed the crop into the combine.
“I usually set my losses to a quarter of a percent and then let the Constant Flow cruise control system manage forward speed according to load,” he says. “Using losses as the governing factor, I can harvest up to 20t/hour in rape, 27t/hour in spring barley and 40t/hour in wheat.
“Constant Flow is a fantastic feature – you’ll never beat the technology in the machine, so you might as well make it work for you,” he says. “It makes harvesting quite relaxing, particularly when auto steer is activated.”
He adds the Skyline cab is a pleasant place to sit, and the introduction of a 10.4 inch touchscreen terminal – borrowed from sister company Fendt – makes harvesting data easy to view, store and adjust.
“There are preset crop types stored in the on-board computer, but it offers enough flexibility to save your own settings based on variety and crop type,” he says.
And selecting reverse sees the touchscreen filled with an image from the on-board reversing camera.
A 10,500-litre tank equates to around 9t of grain, and off-loading two tankfuls can fill each of the farm’s two Richard Western 18t grain trailers.
The only downside to the system is the 7.7m header – Steve Offord would like a slightly wider header to suit a planned controlled traffic farming (CTF) regime.
“Our tramlines have been in the same place for years, so the switch to a CTF system is logical – but we’d really like an 8.2m header to make working widths match up much more precisely,” he says. “The 9.2m header is just too big.”
When it comes to fuel efficiency, the Centora is burning its way through 1.8 litres of fuel for every tonne harvested, and that includes using a straw chopper.
“Straw has a higher value to our soils than it does being baled and sold,” he adds. “And we get a very even chop and spread.”
MF’s Min-Till chopper comprises eight rows of serrated blades, 108 stationary knives and a rotor speed faster than many standard choppers, creating a very short chop length for a faster breakdown.
“Cultivations are much more straightforward when all residues are chopped and spread evenly behind the combine. And if we move to a wider header in future, the chopper is more than good enough to deliver what we need.”
The farm has no set regime when it comes to cultivations, and Mr Offord will use any combination of min-till or plough-based cultivations to suit soils, crop type and seasonal weather conditions.
“It’s all about doing what is right for our soils at that point in time,” he adds. “But the combine gives us a great starting point when thinking about the following year’s seedbeds.”