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12-Row Custom-Equipped Combine Runs in Six-Row Fields
It’s not easy or cheap, but it is possible to assemble an equipment package that can harvest with high efficiency in the fields and woodlands of northeast Wisconsin. Just ask Phil Fendryk.
He is a custom harvester located 50 miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Due to the terrain and weather, field sizes have changed little here in generations.
“Our average field is probably 20 acres. We’ve got a lot of fields that are 10 and a few that are 75,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of woods, a lot of creeks, and a lot of swamps that aren’t farmable. We don’t spend too much time in one field.”
The fields that Fendryk and his crew harvest are small, but the combine is not. The harvester is tailor-made for this country, employing a 12-row folding corn head (to make running down narrow roads easier) and tracks (to run over often wet, mucky fields).
Scott Reuss agrees that this isn’t the place for 12-row corn heads. Reuss is the University of Wisconsin Extension agent serving Oconto and Marinette counties.
Where Fendryk custom-harvests, there are a lot of wet areas, woods, swamps, and poorly drained spots to work around. “The roads are toward the narrow side. Nothing is on the grid. The average farm is a livestock farm. They combine some acres but not nearly enough to justify having their own harvesting equipment,” Ruess says.
Fendryk’s base unit is a 2011 New Holland CR9065 with a SmartTrack system that added about $75,000 to the package price. It is armed with an Italian-built 12-row Fantini stalk-chopping corn head that folds up for highway travel. “We need this folding head here,” Fendryk says. “I’ve got 100 fields myself and each of my custom guys probably has eight to 10 fields, so there’s too much moving for hauling the header. We fold it up, leave it on the combine, and away we go.”
When Fendryk ordered the New Holland with the Fantini corn head in 2011, he was tired of losing time bogging down in wet conditions and moving from field to field. It’s not just himself. He has a crew with three truck drivers, a tillage person, and a grain cart operator.
After three harvests, he’s delighted with the high-efficiency system.
“With the tracks, we’ve been rolling right through wet conditions. We pretty much had to run 18 to 20 hours a day before just to keep up,” Fendryk recalls. “Now, we shut down before 10 p.m. We get a good rest and get the dryers filled up.”
The Class 8 track version combine has a heavier drivetrain and a wider base.
“We’ve never run into a problem with the tracks, and we’ve never been stuck yet. On the road, it’s a little rougher riding, but in the field, it’s smooth. It doesn’t sink, and we save a lot of time because we’re not spinning. We get less compaction. When we’ve got the bean head on [he uses a 25-foot flexing platform], the tracks keep it more level, more consistent.”
Fendryk always had field ruts to repair after harvest. Compaction under the ruts had to be repaired with deep ripping. Compared with the old days, he says, there is little deep-ripping work to do now.
New harvest option
Fendryk has an unusual system for the area, Reuss says. “Most custom harvesters take their heads off and trailer them. The folding chopping head increases travel flexibility quite a bit. It saves some time and, probably, the need for a second person. It would be a significant efficiency factor when moving from a field, especially for those customers who have smaller fields that are spread out over an area,” Reuss says.
Several companies have aftermarket tracks and folding chopping corn heads for major combines. Fendryk’s combine is unique in that it is factory-built for tracks. The drivetrain is more robust and is built to withstand the increased torque that comes with additional traction.
“Another reason I went with tracks is because the folding head is so heavy,” Fendryk says. “That makes the combine heavy. The head weighs about 10,000 pounds, and when we get that tank loaded with 10,000 pounds of beans or corn, the tires can’t support that weight in our conditions. With the tracks, we can hold all this weight and it’s no problem.”
Fendryk farms 1,500 acres of his own land and does an additional 2,500 acres of custom harvesting.
Harvest for him starts with winter wheat around the first of August. He and his crew harvest soybeans until mid- to late September, and then they move on to corn in October, often running into early winter.