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Combine Header Pays Off

When Bill Bruere got his first draper header for his combine, his days got longer. And that's a good thing in the midst of soybean harvest.

“I can start an hour earlier in the morning and keep going an hour later at night,” says the Prole, Iowa, farmer. The hours in between are also more productive, due to the smooth, no-stops operation of the draper-type crop delivery to the combine feeder house.

A draper header uses a canvas-style rolling platform belt to catch crop from the sickle bar. The crop is conveyed on the belt from both ends of the header to the middle, where a third draper pushes it into the feeder house. Draper headers are an alternative to auger-style headers.

Bruere got his first 35-foot draper header three years ago and ran it successfully for two seasons. When he upgraded to a Claas Lexion 750 combine this year, he was determined to have another draper header and found the one he wanted at Brian's Farm Supply in Lineville, Iowa. This one is 40 feet wide, and he runs it at a steady 5 mph in soybeans, covering about 25 acres an hour, at a fuel usage of less than 1 gallon per acre. Here are the advantages he sees to the draper.

Start earlier, stop later

Soybeans are notorious for being finicky at harvest. When the plants are damp, they can slug up at the feeder. It narrows harvest hours down to the middle part of the day.

“With this header, there's no bunching of the soybean plants, especially in tough conditions,” Bruere says. “They flow steadily on the platform and feed into the combine uniformly. Slugging is just about eliminated.”

On the day of the interview for this story, Bruere was combining at normal speed right after a light rain. He stopped briefly only because rain drops on the cab windows limited visibility.

No-dust harvest

Dust comes out the back of the Lexion, but with his draper header, Bruere says he sees almost none from the cab. Auger headers tend to thresh soybean plants as they are pushed toward the feeder. The draper belt carries them there, and all threshing takes place inside the machine. The header creates little dust.

Almost rockproof

There isn't a header that will never pick up a rock. But Bruere likes the way his header tilts back in areas where rocks are prevalent.

“It rides over them rather than scooping them up,” he says. “They're not as big a deal as with any other header I've operated.”

Fits all models

Bruere's draper header is made by MacDon Industries Ltd., a Canadian company that makes various types of harvesting equipment. Jason Strobbe, MacDon product manager, says the headers come in 30-, 35-, 40-, and 45-foot widths, and are adaptable to all combine makes and models.

Strobbe lists four advantages that he hears from farmers about draper headers.

1. Even flow

“It creates a nice, gentle, even flow of material into the machine,” he says. “If a machine has a 30-foot flex-auger header, we can put our 35-foot draper on it and run at the same combine speed.” That's 17% more capacity, Strobbe notes.

2. Less shatter loss

This is particularly significant in dry harvest conditions, such as when soybeans are under 10% moisture. Because of the gentle conveying on the draper table to the feeder house, there is no popping of bean pods.

Strobbe says that customers report an 80% to 90% reduction in shatter with the draper header.

3. Steady operation

Because of the smooth and even flow of material and lack of slugging, Strobbe says customers also report a fuel savings with draper headers in the field.

“The engine maintains a nice, steady rpm that lets it run at maximum efficiency,” he says.

4. No residue bunches

The threshing and separating mechanisms operate at top efficiency because of the even flow of crop material, resulting in an equally even flow of crop residue out the back.

“You don't see any bunching of residue,” says Strobbe. “That's really important if you no-till.”

The MacDon header is built to flex in sections, and the reels flex exactly in line with the outer sections of the cutter bar and center frame sections. That means the gap between the cutter bar and the reel is always maintained. Because of this configuration, the bar is perpetually swept free of the cut material.

“They're popular with custom combine operators because they will run in a variety of crops,” Strobbe says. “They can change them from flexible mode to rigid for off-the-ground crops in just a few seconds.”

If you buy a new combine, he points out that you can take the make and model number to a MacDon dealer, and the dealer can get a header just for your machine, along with the appropriate mounting adapter. Strobbe says the cost of one of their headers might be 20% to 30% more than a flex-auger header, but it can pay for itself in crop savings and combine performance.

Quick payoff

Bruere agrees. Soybeans were especially dry and brittle at harvest in 2012, with the potential for much shatter loss at the header.

“I think it is conservative to say that this header saved 2 to 3 bushels an acre in shatter loss in many of my fields,” he notes. “This is one piece of equipment that doesn't cost. It pays.”

His draper header cost about $80,000, significantly more than a comparable auger-style header. He combined about 2,000 acres of soybeans with it, and if it saved just 2 bushels an acre, those 4,000 extra bushels more than paid for the header, he notes.

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