The development of the self-propelled combine harvester has changed the way the world feeds itself. Today, John Deere combines harvest more than half the world’s grain. The story of their success, from the Model 55 to the X-Series, is one of technical innovation as well as high quality customer support through a network of professional dealers.
The design of the John Deere Model 55 was the forerunner of today’s combines. Its central driving position is high up, overlooking the feederhouse and header with a width of 12 foot. The engine is positioned close to the rear wheels behind the driver. The grain tank is close to the front axle for added stability, with the additional weight over the front axle providing extra traction, leaving the rear wheels for steering. Cutting around 1.6 ha/h compared to 12 ha/h for the X-Series it transformed harvesting efficiency.
Early combine headers were integrated with the feederhouse and changeover could take well over an hour. Combines travelled to the field with the header attached which limited their width to 2.55 m in Europe. The Quick Tach system introduced on the 3300-
7700 combines meant headers could be towed behind the combine and attached in the field in just a couple of minutes. This allowed for wider, higher capacity models which were to double combine capacity within the next 10 years
The first cabs began to appear in the 1960s as an option. They were a very basic design that kept the driver out of the dust, but were noisy and unbearable on a hot day. It wasn’t until 1982 and the 1000 Series that combines got anything today’s driver would recognise as a cab. Quieter and more refined it was also fitted with air conditioning and allowed more electronic systems to be added over the coming years.
John Deere began working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the mid 1990s to develop a combine positioning system. It required an investment in a network of earth based reference stations to correct the satellite signal for errors due to the ionosphere and other phenomena. This prototype, known as ‘green eggs and ham’ led to the launch of the first StarFire system in 1998 with an accuracy of 30 cm. The latest evolution, the StarFire 7000 receiver now offers precision guidance of up to 2.5 cm
The self-levelling 55H built on John Deere’s expertise in hillside combines which started with the horse drawn model 36B in 1936. Marketing films promoted many features today’s drivers would recognise: ‘one finger’ power steering, powerful disc brakes and variable speed ground drive.
Early tracks were developed from construction machinery. Their steel plates required regular greasing and road speeds were slow. Here they are being used for rice harvesting in Italy. Sharing the familiar triangular profile of today’s tracks, it would take more than 40 years before reliable rubber tracks would become available.
The CTS (Cylinder Tine Separator) combine featured a large cylinder and concave upfront with two rotors provided a secondary threshing action. It remained the world’s only hybrid combine until 1996 when John Deere’s patent expired. The compact, narrow body provided exceptional throughput and it is still sold in Asia for rice harvesting.
Featuring Parallel Tracking the driver had to concentrate hard to keep the combine on the centre line. It wasn’t until AutoTrac in 2002 that true hands-free guidance arrived. The display also featured Harvest Monitor and Yield Mapping software and many are still in use today.
Early combine fleets used flags to signal which combine needed unloading. Then came short wave radio and mobile phones. The introduction of onboard electronics to enable JDLink machine connectivity is the biggest harvesting innovation of the past 20 years. Transmitting real-time data on machine performance and positioning for remote monitoring, it’s transforming work planning, harvest logistics and more.
Greg Briggs from Cisco, Illinois took delivery of the 500,000th John Deere combine, a 9870 STS on 20th May 2010. The Single Tine Separator System was a major departure from the traditional walker system and is so successful it lives on today in the S-Series combines - the world’s most popular combine.
See the combines of the past in action and the key milestones that have transformed harvesting productivity and allowed the world to feed up to 7.8 bn people today.
Finance has been extremely important ever since the Great Depression in the 1930s when John Deere extended credit terms to struggling farmers. In later years, with the creation of John Deere Financial in the UK in 1997, a foothold in Europe was established and more flexible financing options have become available to meet the challenges of individual farmers.