Tuesday 13 August 2013

Harvesting Barley - a ride in the combine

It's that time of year again, the sky is a little bit bluer, mornings are a bit colder and the air is a bit fresher and er, noisier. It's harvest time and the combines are rolling again. It hardly seems ten minutes since we saw the Claas Lexion 550 chewing its way through corn on The Rake at Low Hutton but a year has gone by and here it is harvesting barley near High Hutton.

Ian Harding of Crop Tech Ltd herds the Claas combine downhill while Richard Wainwright follows in the John Deere
(click to enlarge)
I'd scrounged a lift over to the field from Richard Wainwright, the Estate Farm Manager. By the time we arrived the combine had disappeared over the brow of the hill in a cloud of dust and while I waited for it to return we chatted about the fine weather and the state of the harvest. The dust is good, it means the crop is dry and easier to cut, but Richard pointed out that the storms that came through a fortnight ago had tangled large patches of the barley and this can cause the crop to foul the combine.

Fouled! (click to enlarge)
As the combine reappeared, Richard drove off around the field to follow it and I started taking pictures. Sure enough a few minutes later the combine ground to a halt and Richard & Ian started to remove a huge clump of barley straw wrapped around the combines red spool.

The Claas catches the last rays of the setting sun  (click to enlarge)

A classic Class combine view (click to enlarge)
I joined Richard in the tractor and we raced up the field to serve the combine which had a full grain tank. The harvester has to be kept rolling because every minute of fine weather is precious, so the grain is taken on the move. The unloading auger swings out and there's few seconds of jockeying to get the right position - we have to get the grain to fill the trailer evenly - and then the barley starts to flow.

The Class unloading grain on the move (click to enlarge)

Pacing the combine - but running out of field...
 (click to enlarge)
But suddenly we're running out of field and so Richard has to back off to let the combine turn. I took my leave at this point.

Ian inspects the barley, some of it is wind damaged but at least it is dry
 (click to enlarge)
The next morning I caught up with Ian Harding as he finished off the field. While we waited for the trailers to arrive Ian told me something of the difficulties of navigating a 12 foot wide harvester on public roads. Even though the header is transported on its own trailer, the combine still needs an escort and is tricky to get through village streets.

Ian tells me that he enjoys harvesting, as it provides a pleasant change from more routine work such as crop spraying. Potatoes are a steady earner as they need regular spraying against blight and pelleting to protect them from slugs.

We talked about last years harvest,  Ian described the weather last year as 'disastrous': corn prices had risen to £240/tonne, this year, so far, they are a more normal £120-£150.

I asked Ian for a ride in the cab and as the trailers arrived he fired up the combine and we set off. I was immediately surprised at how smooth and quiet it was - I was expecting it to be rough, bouncy and loud.

At the back of the cab there's a clear window into the grain tank and you can see barley pouring out of the auger into the tank.

Barley flows into the grain tank (click to enlarge)
Ian explained a little of the workings of the combine - the header is composed of a red spool, which leads the crop onto the bed of the header. Hanging from the spool are little tines which act a bit like a comb and tease out some of the tangles caused in the crop by wind and rain. The height of the spool can be adjusted but it was having little effect today because the crop was in good condition.

In the photograph below you can see the red spool and also the cutting knives, little shiny triangles which oscillate backwards and forwards and cut the stems of the crop, just like a giant electric razor. Also just visible are the crop-lifters: flexible metal prongs which stick out from the bed of the header and help lift the crop up to the bed if it has been beaten down by wind or rain.

Once it is cut, large screws move the crop to the centre of the header where it is taken inside the harvester to be threshed.

Header in raised position, showing the red spool, cutting knives and crop-lifters (click to enlarge)

Header lowered into working position (click to enlarge)

In next to no time the grain tank was full - it holds around 5 tonnes - and a trailer was moving into formation with us to take off the barley.

Combine drivers view (click to enlarge)

A full trailer rolls away (click to enlarge)
Once all the barley is harvested the combine will go to bed for a bit until it's called out late in the year for the bean harvest.

Many thanks to Richard Wainwright, of Huttons Ambo Farm Manager and Ian Harding, Director of Crop Tech Ltd, for patiently answering my questions and letting me clutter up their cabs with camera gear.

All material © Michelle Stone 2013

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