What Is A Combine & How Does It Work?

What Is A Combine & How Does It Work?
External Guest Writer
January 25, 2022

For the longest period in human history, a majority of the working population was employed in the agrarian sector. The 1900s was seen as the turning point of this trend as technologies began to emerge in order to lower the dependency of the agricultural sector on the workforce. Nearly 12 million Americans were engaged in agricultural activities in 1900, but this figure dropped to only 1.92 million by 2010.

Agriculture has been largely modernized in developed nations today. This is down to the advent of important tools and machines that include the likes of the combine. In the following article, we describe the specifics of combines used in the agriculture industry, as well as dissect its many benefits and combinations for farming systems.

What is a Combine Harvester?

A combine, short for combine harvester, is a large-scale automated machine that helps to improve the productivity of agricultural workers. It is primarily used to efficiently harvest massive quantities of various grains, thereby greatly reducing the laborious burdens faced by farmers. The name of the machine comes from its ability to combine three major functions of harvesting. 

This specifically includes the process of reaping, threshing, and winnowing. Some of the major grains harvested with the help of a combine include soybeans, oats, rye, wheat, flax, sunflower, barley, and canola. Based on the type of grain being harvested by the combine, the head of the equipment can be modified and designed to maximize its efficiency.

How Does It Work?

A combine is a large and complex piece of machinery that involves numerous moving and integral parts. These machines may or may not have a grain platform, depending on its usage, which typically have two types of platforms: spinning augers or a belt that separates clean grain from unwanted material before the harvest gets into the grain cart.

Because farmers plant more than one crop at a time, versatile machine models have sprung up over the years to harvest more grain types, as well as featuring a separate grain cart per crop. Modern combines can remove unwanted stalks, and most machines, like the John Deere combine models, can process the whole plant in one swift motion.

Here, we examine the inner workings of this modern farm equipment, and how these machines benefit farmers as they go about their harvest season:

  • The collection of grains and cereal crops occurs at the front of the combine in a section known as the header. The header includes a couple of sharp pincers referred to as crop dividers.
  • Based on the width of the header, the speed and efficiency of the combine varies proportionately.
  • Maneuvering the header comes down to the use of hydraulics to help angle the section in necessary ways.
  • In order to push the grains into the cutter, a rotating wheel known as the pickup reel is used in the combine. The reel uses vertical teeth to help grasp the grains and smoothly move it into the header.
  • There is also a section called the cutter bar that’s located under the reel. This bar helps to cut the plants off at their base, acting much like a hedge cutter as the combine sweeps along the farm.
  • Once the crops move through the cutter bar, they are directed towards the center of the machine with the help of numerous rotating screws and augers. This leads them up a conveyor and into the main section of the combine.
  • In this central portion, a threshing drum is used to break the plants and separate the grains from the stalks.
  • Once the grains are separated, they fall through fine sieves that help to only collect the integral section of the plants. There is a collection tank waiting below the sieves to accumulate the grains.
  • The remainder of the plant, which includes the stalks and chaff, are directed to another conveyor called straw walkers. The conveyor moves the plant to the back of the machine, and during this process more grains fall into the tank of the combine.
  • Once the tank is entirely full, the grains are transferred into an empty trailer with the help of an elevator and side pipe located inside the combine.
  • A rotating mechanism is used in the combine to help spread the unwanted staff of the plant across a wide area. In other cases, the straw of the grains is also baled up with a machine and is used for various purposes such as animal bedding.

The Different Types of a Combine Farm Harvester

The dynamics and design of a combine tend to vary based on the type of crops being harvested. Modern combines have the option of utilizing interchangeable headers to help ease the burden on the farmers. Others may include a grain tank, where separated grains are stored. The grain tank also helps farmers to streamline harvesting.

Different crops require different harvesters, and some self-propelled combines are used to harvest specific grain crops depending on the harvest season. Harvesting corn uses a different machine from a  cotton or straw chopper to cut crops.

  • Corn combine harvester: Combines fitted with corn headers are specifically used for harvesting corn cobs. They rely on the use of huge, sturdy prongs to make it easy to harvest corn plants. The corn combine should include a corn header which needs to be well-maintained, as a worn corn header is the leading cause of grain falls, losing up to 60% of the harvest crops.
  • Cotton combine harvester: A special combine harvester model is also necessary to harvest sensitive crops such as cotton. An example of a cotton combine harvester would be one that includes a hay bailer at the back and a combine harvester at the front of the machine. 

The major point of difference here is that normal combine harvesters tend to spray the grain, but a cotton harvester will bundle the cotton into giant bales. These bales are then wrapped with plastic to protect the cotton. Once the bale is packed and ready, it is automatically released into the field behind the combine.

The Benefits of Combine Harvesters

As you can imagine, there are many advantages of using a combine harvester for a farmer. Some of the major benefits include:

  • Combine harvesters help to greatly reduce the manpower required during the harvesting season.
  • The efficiency of these machines is extremely high, not to mention its ability to speedily combine various segments of the harvesting process.
  • Although combine harvesters are expensive, it is often considered a one-time fixed investment that reduces the financial stress on farmers in the long run.
  • It is possible to improve the versatility of the machine by modifying the headers based on the crops being harvested in the field.
  • Harvesters cut crops, process them, and streamline the entire harvesting process to eliminate the need for manual processing. This is particularly helpful for crops with short harvesting seasons.
  • Harvesters can easily go over uneven ground, and efficiently process crops without hindrance from the uneven terrain.

Combine to Excel

The process of farming is an ancient one, but it has undergone massive transformations in the modern world. The advent of technology and the development of impressive machinery such as combine harvesters help to make farming easier and move away from being a strenuous and labor-intensive activity.