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By MICHAEL POLLITT, Agricultural editor
Saturday, August 11, 2012
A new top-of-the range combine harvester from Claas was seen for the first time working on a Norfolk estate.
This giant of the harvest field has a 598 horsepower engine, costs £560,000, and is capable of cutting 20 acres of wheat an hour.
It is fitted with a Mercedes engine, which meets Europe’s new tough tier IV emission standards, and is designed for cutting 4,000 acres of arable crops in an average harvest.
As the snatch and grab harvest faltered, the Lexion 780, which is fitted with tracks, was able to take advantage of a weather window to cut oilseed rape on the Marquess of Townshend’s Raynham estate.
As the two-hour demonstration was coming to a close at Toftrees, near Fakenham, the rain fell in earnest and brought all harvesting to an abrupt stop.
Although the combine had arrived in Norfolk just three days earlier from Germany and the driver had never combined oilseed rape in this country, the Lexion was soon ripping through the crop with its 12m header. Estate manager Duncan Blyth had given the go-ahead to cut the crop of DK Cabernet although the moisture was about 15pc. “We only have to have a couple of these heavy showers and it would be on the floor, so it is just not worth the risk.”
After taking a turn in the cab, he told Tim Pine, product manager for Claas combines, that it had been running at just 55pc of engine power. “It is good, smooth. And you wouldn’t really know that it has got 40ft of crop going through it.”
Working in a damp crop, with moisture about six percentage points higher than usual, the combine was running easily at a speed of about 4km per hour.
Although the yield meter was not operating, Mr Blyth said: “This is the first field of Cabernet apart from the field where our own combine is working. I reckon it was about the four-tonne mark or 10pc down on last year.”
In another field just 300 yards away, the estate’s combine was working at slightly greater pressure in another oilseed crop yielding about 4.5 tonnes, he said.
Mr Pine said that Claas had about 20 pre-series machines working in parts of the country, which have been cutting barley and oilseed rape. He said that this latest model had a bigger grain tank with 12,500 litre capacity. It was designed for farmers with a big acreage, so the Lexion 780 for 4,000-acres plus, Lexion 770 for 3,500 acres, Lexion 760 up to 3,000 acres and Lexion 750 up to 2,500 acres size machine. Then the Walker range was designed for harvesting from 500 acres to about 2,000 acres.
The decision to switch to a tracked design in 2004 had made it possible to keep the overall width to within 3.5m. “We sell probably about 90pc of big combines on tracks because of the narrow road width. The actual combine still remains a 1,700mm wide drum. The tracks are much narrower than wheeled machines,” he said.
“It is not a wheeled machine, which has had tracks fitted. It has been designed as a tracked combine with a longer rather than a wider footprint,” he added.
“The key is performance but also increasing efficiency and fuel efficiency. We’ve put in a Tier IV engine which has added to the overall cost but have designed a combine with increased output. We’ve increased power on most of the models, so with more horsepower.”
An idea adapted by design engineers from one of the world’s most challenging car rallies, the Paris to Dakar, effectively introduces the concept of cooling on demand. “The dynamic cooling pack enables another 20hp to be available, thus releasing power and efficiency to do more combining. So it saves about 20hp out of the engine by only cooling when it is needed by taking the airflow from the top of the combine through, down and out on either side.”
Mr Pine said that other new features included improved hydrostatic drives which propel the combine across the field with less horsepower, and better tracks steering and four-wheel drive systems.
The other advantage of a tracked combine was that it left a more uniform stubble, which also made cultivations or ploughing a great deal easier.
The switch to bigger machines has been gathering pace as farmers look to harvest crops more quickly. Paul Peachment, who covers an area from west Norfolk and across the county, said: “I’ve got 20 combines with 10.5m (35ft) and 12m (40ft) cutter bars now. Five years ago, there wouldn’t there wouldn’t have been any. Most would have 9m (30ft) and a number of 25ft cutters.”
Arable farmers have also been getting weather insurance by buying secondhand machines to ease the harvest pressure. In a fortnight ending in the first week of July, a total of 40 machines were sold, said Mr Pine.
For the first time in Norfolk, the biggest wheeled tractor, the Axion 950, was also seen in action with a heavy-duty cultivator in rape stubble. The 410hp machine, which is the largest conventional wheeled tractor, will be available from the end of October.
A new Claas 770, working on Sir John White’s Salle estate, near Reepham, was charging through a dry crop of oilseed rape at 6.5km per hour with the engine at 100pc in cruise control. “It was awesome, truly awesome,” said Mr Peachment. Estate manager Poul Hovesen said that a total of 165 acres of oilseed rape was combined on Thursday – the one machine did more than two Lexion 570s working on the north Norfolk coast.
Reserve warden John Blackburn gazes over the rippling water which has attracted two little egrets with satisfaction.