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Owning a different harvesting system

Two machines make up the McLeod harvesting system


November 16, 2007
By Yvonne Whitrow

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16aOur brand new 'harvesting system' has arrived! It was delivered to our yard
June 21, 2003, directly from the Western Canada Farm Progress Show in Regina,
Saskatchewan, where it had won the prize for best booth. It was highly polished,
freshly painted and bright blue. Something new was in our yard, something new
that was unusual, exactly what my husband Alan likes. He was pumped! His father,
Nat was more subdued. It was not what he had hoped for. His heart had been set
on something green, something self-propelled or at least something normal. You
see, we didn't get a new conventional combine. We got a new non-combine, a McLeod
harvester, one of only 10 sold in 2003, one of only 14 in existence.

Two machines make up the McLeod harvesting system. One, the harvester, looks
like a pull-type combine with a massive, over-sized grain tank. This machine
cuts and/or picks up the crop in the field like a typical combine. The difference
comes in what it spits out. Grain entering the harvester is put through a conventional
type combine cylinder to thresh the grain. Unlike a combine, which then further
separates the grain from the chaff and straw with the sieves, a harvester collects
the graff (the seed, seed coat/chaff and hopefully weed seeds) in an 800 bushel
tank. Only the straw is left in the field.

The graff is trucked back to the yard where it is dumped into the receiving
tank of the McLeod Harvest mill, a stationary second machine, that separates
the grain from the chaff. After separation, a high velocity fan, designed to
shatter weed seeds, blows the chaff through an auger-like tube called the gantry.
As harvest progresses, a small mountain of millings that can be used for animal
feed is created.

Why a harvester?
After the 2002 harvest, it was obvious to all of us that our 1979 John Deere
7721 was on its last legs. Something had to be done! The duct tape repairs to
the unloading auger had to stop. "We need a new combine," Alan said.
His father said it too. We all knew it. Nat might have envisioned a new 50 series
combine. I envisioned the payments of $300,000 over 10 years, $27,500 semi-annually,
and cringed. By local standards we have a small farm, 1400 acres of grain, 600
acres of pasture and forages, 110 cattle and 150 elk. With the beef industry
reeling after the discovery of BSE in May 2003 and the elk industry struggling
daily, how could we ever afford what we needed?

"Why does it have to be a combine at all," Alan wondered? "Perhaps
there's another choice. Why don't we look at a harvesting system? After all,
we've been collecting chaff for cattle feed for 15 years. Perhaps something
like the McLeod system might be an option." He had first caught sight of
the machine at the farm show and had been following the machine's evolution
over the past few years. Certain aspects of the system were exactly what he
was looking for. Nat was particularly non-committal! He had lived through the
threshing machine years as a boy and was not keen to return to a machine of
his youth.

According to traditional onwards-and-upwards thought, buying a McLeod harvester
is a backward step. The mill looks suspiciously like the 2003 version of a 1923
threshing machine. But Alan is drawn to the unusual and inventive. At the farm
show, he always enjoys the New Inventions Building, he is drawn to the quirky
things of life. If there was a different way to do something, that was how he
wanted to do it. By contrast a friend says that if there was a uniform for farmers,
her husband would gladly wear every piece of it and never take it off! I got
to thinking that if there was a uniform for farmers, Alan would happily stand
naked in his field to protest!

In the end we bought the system for five reasons:

  1. An incentive program was in place to encourage buyers in this first year
    of assembly-line production.
  2. We were doing the work of hauling chaff to the yard every fall anyway, so
    even though the McLeod system initially appears to be a less efficient way
    to harvest, it did not involve any more actual work. It just required a re-organization
    of the work that we were already doing.
  3. The system should remove significant amounts of weed seeds from the field,
    so chemical bills should be reduced over five years.
  4. It has the capacity of a Class 6 combine.
  5. Finally, the beauty of the McLeod system is that it leaves a massive pile
    of millings in our yard.

Since every 10 acres of cropland provides enough millings to winter one beef
cow, our pile should feed up to 140 animals. Feed quality is good and should
replace 400 to 500 tonnes of good-quality bales annually. Alan is firmly convinced
that this machine will let us make better use of our resources.

Preparing to harvest
A standard end-gate is not suitable to unload something with the light fluffy
texture of graff, so Alan decided to retrofit our existing truck. Box extensions
were added so it could carry more volume and the back-end redesigned to open
quickly and completely.

Once dirt and two loads of gravel were hauled into place to build a truck ramp,
the mill was moved into place and the gantry was assembled. Positioning two
hopper bins near the mill for surge storage completed the mill site. At every
stage of set-up and during the first few days of operations, McLeod Harvest
had support people in our yard to walk us through the set up, trouble-shoot
and resolve any initial problems as they arose.

Operating a harvester
We had used a John Deere 7721 for 20 years and it presented no surprises during
harvest. Alan and his father knew what would break and almost knew at what point
in harvest it would break. The first McLeod harvest changed all that. Except
for the swather, every piece of harvest machinery, not to mention our thought
process, had to be changed or tweaked in some way during this first season with
the harvester. Everything was a mystery, would it really work?

Fortunately, a good neighbour allowed us to test-harvest the equipment on an
early crop so we were able to resolve initial set-up difficulties. By the time
our own harvest started 10 days later, most of the bugs had been worked out
of the system and the stress of start-up had been largely dispelled.

Operating the harvester proved to be simpler than running a JD 7721. In-cab
controls are on a joystick and use electric over hydraulic technology. An on-board
computer monitors all settings and since there are no sieves to set or adjust
in the field, all in-field adjustments can be done from the cab. It can carry
any stock John Deere header or with an adapter kit, any other header on the
market. Regular maintenance is almost non-existent and it only needs to be serviced
every 50 hours.

Trucking, though, takes on an added significance. Graff's bulky low-density
nature means you haul a lot more volume but, on the bright side, you never need
to worry about being over weight. Five hundred bushels of wheat graff (by volume)
would yield 100 bushels of grain and 400 bushels of cattle feed. Flax has the
highest density: 500 bushels of flax graff yielded up to 150 bushels of grain.
The chaff yield does not vary as much as the grain/bushel yield. So a higher
yielding grain crop means a higher percentage of clean grain to chaff.

Operating the harvester is simple. However, the mill in the yard is a drastically
different story. Here you are doing two operations at once. You are not only
separating the grain from the chaff, you are also creating a feed source. The
mill is powered by an Isuzu diesel engine which runs the hydraulic motors. An
on-board computer controls all systems. Once the computer has its default parameters
established for each crop, it is as simple as turning on the key in the morning,
punching in the crop you are harvesting and beginning.

During the day, the mill operation is controlled by a remote control toggle
switch that is carried in the truck. No one has to babysit the mill while it
cleans. The trucker just dumps the entire load of graff into the receiving tank
and goes back to the field. Cleaned grain is augered into surge bins and chaff
is blown into a mountain of feed. Any system failures or malfunctions result
in the mill's automatic shut down. For example, if the clean grain discharge
runs empty for 30 seconds, it assumes the cycle is complete and shuts down.

It is interesting to open the hatches, stand beside the mill and watch it operate.
It is an eye-opener to watch what is happening to the material inside, since
you cannot do this with a traditional combine.

Once the startup operating parameters are sorted out, there are minor irritations
when the mill occasionally overheats and shuts down. It takes extra time to
reposition the gantry every day to create the chaff mountain, and it is irritating
to have chaff blow into the yard whenever there is a southeast wind. These are
some of the unwelcome and unexpected surprises of the new system.

Changes for next year
With some significant changes made to the field unit by the company, Alan looks
forward to the 2005 harvest.

For us, the hazards of a large pile of fluffy chaff will be reconsidered and
a better location for the mill in our yard will be found so that the yard does
not become a chaff-swirling dust-zone whenever the wind blows from the southeast.
The 2004 feed was piled into a crescent moon shape with the various crops in
layers of lentils, then wheat, then oilseeds on top. This way, the cattle feed
on a mixture. "They do really well and are full and content," says
Allan.

In the future, Alan's stress load should be lighter too, since he will not
have to try to swath, combine and bale straw behind the combine simultaneously.
He also will not need to spend four weeks in October picking and hauling chaff
piles and bales into our yard. In theory at least, June and July should not
be consumed by haying to the same extent they have in the past and, just perhaps,
real family summer holidays will finally become a possibility. -30-

*Yvonne and Alan Whitrow farm at Yellow Grass,
Saskatchewan.