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Are big class 9/10/11 combines their own worst enemy?

Has the quest for gargantuan, high-performance combines reached a dead end? Or do engineers have more tricks up their computer-assisted designs to coax Mother Earth into supporting more weight?

Can engineers squeeze out more harvest performance without creating a monster machine?

I put that question to Eric Raby, president of Claas North America. Raby was attending a field day hosted by genAG at the Kehler Oak Ridge Farm west of Carman, Man.

He surmised that combines have grown just about as much as they need to grow. As farm size escalates, the new glitch in harvest logistics is the required number of grain carts with drivers, trucks with drivers, distance to the bins, dryer capacity and factors that keep the whole ballet dancing.

Combine engineers are continually upping the ante on capacity. At last count, the world’s biggest combine is the Claas Lexion 8900, with 790 horsepower, a 510-bushel tank and unload of 5.1 bushels per second. With the other companies following close behind, it’s clear that the combine is no longer a bottleneck.

The new problem with all that weight is getting stuck during a wet harvest, soil compaction during virtually all harvest conditions and increasing public ire because of road damage.

Raby said not many years ago, there was a smooth system with corn varieties, combines, carts and trucks that would spot a combine at the headland just in time to fill a truck.

“Today it’s a question of how far can I go? Can I get to the end of the road before my tank fills and I waste time waiting,” said Raby, adding that when combine companies make one improvement to enhance performance, it impacts everything down the line.

“We all said, ‘let’s run a bigger header to make those big combines more efficient.’ But then we filled the grain tank quicker. And every support system down the line also had to improve to keep up with the new head.

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