“A side-by-side demonstration showed we were saving a litre of fuel for every tonne harvested and losing at least a third less grain. It didn’t take long to figure out we would be able to save about $40,000 a year.”
The ability to efficiently process and spread stubble – not grain – proved to be the clincher for the owners of a large-scale Adelaide Plains grain operation when purchasing a new combine harvester last year. Pinery Grain Growers is a fifth-generation family-owned farming business conducted by John and Christine Tiller, Derek and Karin Tiller and Clinton and Emma Tiller. It grows about 4000 hectares of crops on several owned and leased properties based around the family’s home property of ‘Tilmarnock’ at Pinery. The cropping rotation is based purely on wheat and lentils, with the occasional crop of barley and canola. Despite being early adopters of min-till and controlled traffic farming systems, the Tillers weren’t afraid to abandon the latter when it became a rate-limiting factor in their expansion plans.
“Our machinery has been a bit of a journey,” Derek Tiller says. “We upgraded to a zero-till disc seeder in 2015 as part of our plans to implement a 12-metre controlled traffic program. However, we weren’t entirely happy with the outcome in terms of germination and vigour. We also realised that controlled traffic was holding us back in terms of capacity. We needed to increase our productivity by 20 percent so that we could crop the additional land we’d leased. We weren’t interested in moving to a 24-metre disc seeder, so we decided to drop controlled traffic and go back to a tined seeder instead. At the same time, we were thinking of purchasing a second combine harvester. While that decision was being made, we were invited to run a CLAAS LEXION 770 with TERRA TRAC beside our existing combine harvester.”
Derek, a Nuffield Scholar, says he was genuinely surprised by the difference in performance between the two machines. “The LEXION was doing about 75 percent more than our single rotor harvester,” Derek says. “We were driving it to its full engine capacity but its superior threshing and separation efficiency meant grain loss was at least a third less than our existing machine. The two harvesters were using the same amount of fuel per hour but the LEXION was doing 15–20 tonnes more per hour, which meant we were saving a litre of fuel for every tonne harvested. It didn’t take long to figure out we would be able to save about $40,000 a year from reduced fuel consumption and grain losses. On top of this, we’d be able to run one harvester and front instead of two and not have to spend the summer managing stubble.”
All LEXION harvesters incorporate unique CLAAS HYBRID technology, which comprises a patented accelerated pre-separation threshing unit and twin longitudinal rotors. Approximately 70 percent of separation occurs before the crop reaches the rotors, allowing the machine to operate more efficiently and longer in all conditions. CLAAS claims the technology improves throughput by up to 20 percent without affecting grain loss or fuel consumption.
The Tillers opted for the top-of-the-line CLAAS LEXION 780 – recognised as the world’s most advanced harvesting platform – for its ability to handle high yielding crops while simultaneously processing large volumes of stubble. “We deliberately chose the 780 over the 770 to get the maximum capacity,” Derek says. “The LEXION allows us to push on long after we would have knocked off with the previous harvester. It threshes and separates efficiently, even in crops that have not filled properly. In really good conditions and a long, uninterrupted day, we can harvest 800 to 1000 tonnes, whereas we were flat-out doing 600 tonnes with our previous harvester. The flip side of this is 800 to 1000 tonnes of stubble that needs to be managed. We want the paddock to be ready for sowing the moment we leave the paddock.”
The Tiller’s harvester is equipped with a 108-knife SPECIAL CUT straw chopper and a radial spreader with an automatic discharge control. Two electromechanical sensors mounted on the lighting arms at the rear of the machine continuously measure wind speed and/or incline. This data is then used to automatically adjust the spreader paddles to ensure processed stubble spread evenly across the entire cutting width. The operator can adjust the sensitivity of the sensors via CEBIS control terminal in the cabin.
Derek opted for 635 mm tracks set on three metre row spacing. “The price of going to tracks over wheels was a no-brainer,” he says. “We wanted to move to a 45’ draper front, which meant we would have had to have duals at the time. Even though we have moved out of controlled traffic, we still want to reduce compaction. Plus, you get the flotation – you can sink in loose soils with a full bin. Even with the tracks, it’s still less than 3.7 metres wide so we can drive it down the road without an escort. The 30 km/h road speed is fast enough when you are pulling a front, ute and diesel cart.”
Another improvement is the addition of a ‘dynamic’ cooling system behind the 625 hp Tier 4 Mercedes-Benz engine. A 1.6 m diameter fan draws in fresh air from the top of the machine, removes any dust and then pushes the clean air downwards through the oversized radiator and engine compartment. The air is then discharged sidewards through the side vents, creating a ‘curtain’ that prevents dust from rising. “This new cooling package is just great,” Derek says. “Fire is a daily occurrence when you’re harvesting lentils but last year we harvested 2000 ha without a single fire. This is a factory machine with no modifications. We can go into lentils and operate at full capacity with confidence.” Derek also specified CRUISE PILOT, which automatically maintains a constant harvesting speed, throughout or sample quality. “CRUISE PILOT can out-perform most operators,” he says.