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How Do Combine Harvesters Work?

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One of the most crucial pieces of farm machinery invented in the past century, the combine harvester turns an incredibly labour intensive process into a one-person job. Harvesting crops without the machine is inefficient and costly. This machine allows practically any farmer with the space to grow oats, rye, barley and wheat.

To really understand how the combine harvester works, we need to go back a bit and take a look at its history.

Early combine harvesters

Initially invented in America by Hiram Moore, they were quickly adopted by American farmers. By 1860 these early horse and mule drawn machines were in use in farms all over America. An Australian by the name of Hugh Victor McKay developed the first of many commercial combine harvesters in 1885: the Sunshine Harvester.

These early combine harvesters follow the same principle of the engine-driven, self-propelled ones that we use today; the header cuts the crops and sweeps them into whatever storage area it is built with. The combine harvesters of the 19th century would eventually be made with a cutting width of several metres, meaning it would take less time to finish harvesting an entire field.

Self propelled harvesters

The Sunshine Harvester ushered in a new era as the combine made its way around the world. Holt Manufacturing of California also created a self-propelled harvester in 1911, and later, in 1923, the Gleaner Manufacturing Company patented a self-propelled harvester that made use of a number of grain handling improvements like the auger to replace canvas drapers, a rasp bar threshing cylinder and a cylinder that helped thresh closer to the crop. The Gleaner Manufacturing Company would go on to become part of AGCO close to seventy years later, a leading name globally in today’s agricultural equipment industry.

Further improvements

A European harvester by the name of ‘Herkules’ was developed in the 50s by manufacturer CLAAS with the ability to harvest up to 5 tons of wheat every day.

Self-cleaning rotary screens, an improvement that was made in the 1960s, put an end to a common issue where engines would overheat because of grains clogging the radiators. The rotary design was another huge improvement that allows the grain to be stripped from the stalk and passed along a rotor.

Today combine harvesters work by sending crop up a feeder throat via a flight elevator, reaching a threshing mechanism where grain and straw are separated. Most machines give you the ability to alter everything about the process manually to get the absolute best yield of crop.

Over a century of innovation and technological advancement has created the machine commonly used by farmers all over the world today. It is these features that make the combine harvester one of the most important pieces of machinery you’ll find on any farm.