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Combine headers

No matter what type of header you're looking for, you want one that handles a wide range of field conditions, maximizes field time, and improves productivity while capturing the greatest amount of crop possible. Ultimately, the header you chose should enhance the features of your combine.

There are many choices. So consider these five factors before you purchase, especially if the header is used or not built by the combine manufacturer.


1. Crop Harvesting.

Because companies build headers in a variety of configurations that cater to specific crops, determine what you intend to feed through the head.

“Ask yourself what crop you'll be harvesting and how you want to harvest it,” says Kelly Kravig, Case IH product planning manager for combines and headers.

Earl Knuth, ag technology manager for Machinery Link, agrees. “For example, if it's wheat, will it be harvested as a standing crop, windrowed, or with a stripper header?”

2. Combine Size.

It's important to get a header that will utilize the capacity of your combine.

“Too many growers will buy too small a head because that's what they can get through their gate,” says Knuth. “If you take a big combine and put a smaller head on it, you've lost the capacity of the combine because you have to adjust your combine for the smaller amount of crop coming into the machine.”

He says if you're paying for a 300-hp. engine, you need to utilize all of that power to optimize fuel efficiency.

“I spend more time listening to what customers are trying to do and figuring out which head is going to fit best into their operation for the size machine they have,” says Kravig.

3. Compatibility.

“Make sure – especially with the electronics on machines today – the header has electronics on it to be able to do what the combine's capacity offers and that the combine will recognize that head,” notes Knuth. “Computers in combines are so sophisticated that they may not talk to each other – even ones within the same company.”

When buying a used head, compatibility is one thing you have to be particularly careful about. “If you plan to buy used, find out what the header was on last, what it was set for, and what crops the previous owner used it on,” Knuth notes. “Anybody can build an adapter to fit, but sometimes the electronics won't work.”

For instance, machines like MacDon and Honey Bee have different adapters that adapt the header to a specific combine model. So make sure you get the right adapter for the header.

4. Transport.

“Transporting harvesting equipment, including headers, is becoming more important. In some cases, it's more difficult for producers with increased travel distances between fields and with the larger width and sizes of front-end equipment,” says John Deere's Kim Cramer.

As an example, Knuth says if you have a 40- or 45-foot header trailer, make sure you can turn it into a driveway. “I would definitely recommend investing in a header trailer. The trailers today are easy to use and can handle almost any brand of header. They run about $5,000 to $7,000,” he notes.


Some headers offer an optional transport package that gives you the ability to put wheels down and attach the header to the back of the combine.

5. The Whole Operation.

A key factor often overlooked is the overall capacity of the harvest system already in place. “What does the rest of your operation look like? If you buy this big new combine and header, are you ready to handle what goes along with it?” asks Kravig. “How many grain carts do you need? How many trucks do you have? If you dry corn, what is your dryer capacity and what is your elevator capacity to put the crop in the bin?”

You don't want a bottleneck to occur because the rest of your operation can't keep up with the combine.

Tracking trends

Larger combines and plant genetics are driving current trends in the industry.

“As you move to larger combines, you also move to wider platforms. As a result, the need to cut consistently low over the entire width of the head grows more important,” says Cramer.

“While draper platforms have grown in popularity due to smoother feeding, you also need to consider which platform design (auger or draper) provides the best or lowest cut to harvest all your crops, especially in rolling terrain. A rigid, hinged, or flexible cutterbar design and the type of header height sensing system on the header play important roles in determining whether you are able to obtain the type of performance required from the header,” Cramer says.

Chopping corn heads are also seeing an increase in sales.

“Because of residue management, chopping corn heads are starting to catch on in certain areas,” says Knuth. “Producers are trying to cut down on field passes and figure they are already there so they may as well chop the stalks. But it will increase fuel costs and decrease capacity because a chopping corn head will take an additional 6 hp. to 10 hp. per row.”

Depending on the type, size, and configuration expect to pay anywhere from $25,000 to $150,000 for a header.

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