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Deere offers tracks on European combines

New S Series combines were among the major new products introduced by John Deere last August for the 2012 model year. With roughly 45 per cent of their design made up of entirely new components, they’re more than a repackaged offering wrapped in new sheet metal. These combines incorporate an array of new features and technology. But one feature North American farmers currently don’t get to include on them as a factory option is tracks. European farmers, however, do.

At the Agritechnica farm machinery exhibition in Hanover, Germany, a new S Series combine equipped with tracks at Deere’s gigantic display was attracting a lot of attention from European farmers. Like many Canadian producers, some German farmers have just gone through a very tough growing season. “This year was extremely wet,” says Wilhelm Bolhuis, Deere’s combine product specialist for northern Germany. So it’s no surprise many were taking a second look at the tracked machine on display.

Bolhuis wasn’t surprised either at how much attention the new combines were attracting. “We hit all the customer requirements for western Europe (with the combines’ features),” he says.

The track option adds roughly 50,000 Euros (about CDN $75,000) to the combines’ price tag. But for farmers faced with restrictive transport regulations, making the investment in tracks to get a narrower machine is likely to be money well spent, even in a dry year.

Moving a wide, duelled-up Class IX combine down narrow western European roads is simply not possible. And the tracks offer other benefits as well. “It minimizes soil compaction and develops better traction in the soil conditions,” says Bolhuis. Those added benefits hold a strong appeal to buyers in Germany, as with farmers everywhere.

Tracks are offered as an option on the European versions of the three largest models, the S670, S680 and S690. But those machines haven’t had to undergo a design change to accommodate tracks. Both the North American and European versions of all three combines are almost exactly the same, explains Bolhuis. “The S Series combines are prepared for tires or tracks,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. The basic combine is the same.”

According to Barry Nelson, John Deere’s manager of media relations for North America, tracks still aren’t an option on this side of the Atlantic. “As of now, we don’t offer the type of tracks that U.S. and Canadian farmers would need,” he says. However, he adds, the company is working on changing that; and it will make an announcement as soon as the option becomes available here.

One of the features standard on S Series combines, including those sold in North America, is their ability to leave straw in good condition for baling. And that benefit is also scoring points with German grain growers, who are finding increased market demand for their straw and field residue.

“The straw business is increasing because of the increase in biogas plants,” says Bolhuis. The opportunity to use fibre products like straw in alternative energy production has ramped up demand for it. With roughly 3,500 biogas plants in operation at last count, Germany has become a world leader in that method of producing alternative energy. And the demand for corn in ethanol production has risen significantly, too, which has reduced the overall number of acres allotted to cereal grains.

All of which means livestock farmers who used to be able to find ample sources of straw for barnyard bedding are now facing scarcer resources and stiff competition from other buyers, and they now increasingly find themselves hauling straw over long distances.

“Straw quality was always a point of discussion,” adds Bolhuis. So, having a combine that allows more tonnes of straw to be recovered from each field is now very appealing to many German farmers. †

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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