Big Challenges, Better Solutions

For more than six years now, AGCO® has worked with producers here in North America and in other farming communities around the world to design a completely new combine. The result is the IDEAL, a combine that offers superior performance and exceptional uptime, as well as radically simple operation and maintenance.

By Jason Jenkins | Photos By AGCO Corp.

If agricultural producers could select harvest conditions like Hollywood producers select movie backdrops, there wouldn’t be a need for a better combine. The sun would always be shining in a sky full of cotton-candy clouds. Grain would always be standing upright and dried to optimum levels. And time? Well, there’d be some of that to spare at the end of the day. But a Hollywood harvest doesn’t happen often. Many days, those clouds looming on the horizon are dark and full of rain. Already lodged and pushing the high end on moisture content, the crop needs to be harvested ASAP. There’s no time to waste. Unlike an actor, a farmer gets only one take.

How well a combine performs in these adverse conditions could prove to be the difference between profit and loss, success and failure, for the year and beyond. It’s one of the top challenges that producers consider when selecting a combine.“We want combines that are efficient and can handle the tougher conditions,” says Milo Ravndalen, who farms 7,000 acres outside Roosevelt, Minnesota. “We live in an area that has quite a bit of dampness in our climate. When conditions aren’t perfect, which is about 50% of the time, we need a combine that can perform.” Rodney Swystun, a producer from Krydor, Saskatchewan, echoes Ravndalen’s sentiments. His main crop is canola, which he’s harvested in the rain and snow, both too green and brittle dry.

“If it’s there, take it, because tomorrow could be a different day,” says Swystun, who manages about 27,000 acres. “You don’t want to leave that crop out in the field. We’ve got all kinds of ways to deal with the crop if it’s taken off in abnormal conditions—as long as it’ll go through the combine.”

Swystun adds that uptime is crucial when operating in such narrow harvest windows. He currently operates a half-dozen Class 9 combines in an effort to better control when he can get his crop out. “If you’re plugging up feeder housings or rotors, that downtime obviously means that at the end of the day, your production is down,” he says. “We strive to have a machine that performs and gives the best return.” Performing in poor harvest conditions is only one challenge for combines, say the producers. Proper threshing to ensure maximum yield is another. Grain should end up in the combine’s tank—not on the ground.

“If we produce a good crop, we want to be able to harvest it and keep every bushel,” Swystun says. “That’s where the equipment comes in. Otherwise, we’re throwing out our returns.” Efficiency isn’t relegated to threshing, however. With today’s bin-busting yields, it’s a challenge to keep a combine moving through a field if it doesn’t have adequate grain capacity or unloading capabilities, Ravndalen adds. That adds time at harvest a producer can’t afford to spend. Switching between crops is another challenge. Ravndalen says he’d like the ability to more quickly and easily adjust a combine to accommodate for grain beyond corn and soybeans. “With every combine, there’s a point where you want more control,” he adds. “You want to be efficient. You want to do a good job. So, you have to watch your monitors very close and make sure you have it set up right, so that you’re not throwing grain all over.”

A “Clean-Sheet” Combine

These are just a few of the challenges that AGCO addresses with IDEAL, the first combine to be completely designed from scratch by any manufacturer in three decades. AGCO engineers created a machine that offers superior performance and exceptional uptime, as well as radically simple operation and maintenance. The new combine has been tested in best-case scenarios, extremely wet and dry fields, low and high yields, lodged crops, hills, rutted ground and worse. It’s designed to handle the punishment every harvest doles out, while providing producers with the comfort and ergonomics that allow them to safely work the long hours a harvest demands.

Necessity drives innovation, and according to AGCO chief engineer Rex Schertz, higher yields necessitate that combines have greater grain tank capacity and faster unloading rates. With the option of a 485-bushel grain tank (standard on the Class 9), the industry’s largest, the IDEAL meets the challenge, while its Streamer 6.0 auger system is capable of unloading grain at a rate of 6 bushels per second, 50% faster than the closest competitor.
“We know that as an operator, you really need that grain cart in and out as fast as you can, so we’ve developed some of the highest unload rates in the industry today,” Schertz says. The larger grain tank requires fewer trips by the cart to get to the trucks and unload. “Along with that, we didn’t lose focus on the customer, so we did it using the least amount of power possible.”

Threshing is another capacity-related challenge that IDEAL solves. Its Dual Helix rotor system—available in Class 8 and 9 models—offers the longest rotors in the industry, says AGCO chief engineer Joe Biggerstaff. The helix-shaped arrangement of the separation tines, coupled with the largest separation area in the industry, ensures minimal loss levels and improved grain quality. “With IDEAL, we use a longer rotor that can essentially work on the crop longer and get more separation, and then feed that material into the residue management system,” he explains, noting the Class 7 model, which features one rotor, also employs the same groundbreaking design.

From the leather operator’s seat inside the IDEAL’s air-conditioned Vision Cab, a farmer has a 180-degree view of harvest, including the widest of headers, from behind almost 62 square feet of glass. What can’t be seen directly is displayed by the combine’s touchscreen monitor, which can be customized to display functions and machine data. “The IDEAL combine really helps with uptime by providing operator comfort while harvesting,” says Paul Holman, AGCO product engineer. “We’ve really focused on providing an environment that allows good visibility and reduces strain on the operator.” AGCO has delivered more than an entirely new harvesting experience with IDEAL. While the machine may bring unheralded productivity and efficiency to a farming operation, it also brings something even more important—freedom. “If you know you can finish quicker, that you’ve got more efficiency, then you have more control over what you can do,” says AGCO chief engineer Quentin Guhr. “It allows you to take advantage of a small harvesting window or even wait for the optimum time to harvest.”