Forage Harvesters: A Head-To-Head Look – for Sep. 6, 2010

Claas claims to be largest supplier of farm machinery in the world, and in North America, the company says its Jaguar line of self-propelled (SP) forage harvesters dominate that market segment. But they have competition in the SP harvester market from main rivals John Deere and New Holland. The German company, Krone, is also selling its harvester line Canada.

Each company offers many similar as well as a few unique features on their machines. here’s a look at what all four have to offer.


Claas has been in the SP forage harvester business since 1973 and celebrated production of its 25,000th machine in 2008. Its line up is massive, with 10 models in the current Jaguar line — six of these are in the higher-capacity 900 Series, which ranges from 429 to 860 horsepower. The remaining four smaller, Green Eye models offer 367 to 650 hp.

Claas uses Mercedes-Benz in-line, six-cylinder or V-8 engines in all the Jaguars, but the two largest, the 970 and 980, use a twin engine configuration the company calls a “double six” design. Two side-by-side six-cylinder diesels share the job of powering all functions. One engine can be shut down when chopping light crops or where full power isn’t required, such as during road travel. That greatly reduces fuel consumption.

The radiator and cooling condensers are stacked above each other for maximum efficiency. They are located behind the cab rather than at the rear of the engine compartment. In front of the cooling arrangement is a conical-shaped, rotary air cleaning system. The small openings on the self-cleaning screen prevent dust and particles from reaching the radiator and clogging it.

A quick-connect header system allows for “one minute” changes. One lever disconnects the locking mechanism, then unplugging electrical and hydraulic lines is all that is required before simply backing away. Drive power to the header automatically disengages and reengages through a unique, automatic coupling system.

Jaguars use the CEBIS on-board electronic information system, which concentrates control and monitoring of all systems through one monitor. That even includes the optional yield and moisture monitor readouts.

The redesigned V-MAX cutting drum is available with 12 or 24 cutting knives. The intake rolls have up to seven inches of internal clearance, which allows a lot of material to pass through. To protect the knives, the new Direct Stop feature automatically brings the Jaguar to a complete stop if the rock or metal detector senses a foreign object at the intake.

Getting access to the knives on the V-Max cutting drum is easy with the hinged, swing-away intake roll assembly. The automatic sharpening system and shear bar adjustment are controlled through the CEBIS system.

Behind the knives, the accelerator position can be adjusted on the go to change discharge rates or reduce power demands when extra force isn’t needed. That adjustment can also be made manually.

The Spout Pilot feature can automatically control the position of the discharge chute, reducing the number of tasks the operator has to keep an eye on. The optional Tele Cam system allows both the truck and harvester operators to monitor the fill level through a remote television screen, which receives a signal from a camera on the chute.

The 900 Series machines have improved balance because the front axle has been moved forward while the engine was moved closer to the rear, which eliminates the need for rear ballasting. There is also an optional automatic tire pressure control system. The Jaguars have a two-speed, hydrostatic transmission with automatic overdrive. Top speed is 40 kilometres per hour (kph). All-wheel drive is also an option. The Jaguars have won several AE50 design awards from the ASABE (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers).

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John Deere’s 7050 Series harvesters include seven models ranging from the 375 horsepower 7250 to the relatively new 800 horsepower 7950. The flagship 7950 is the only model not to use a Deere engine. Instead, it is powered by a six-cylinder Cummins.

These machines are available with two-wheel or hydraulically- driven, four-wheel drive.

optional driven rear axle, Deere’s ProDrive transmission senses which axle has the most traction and automatically transfers more power to it. That helps minimize wheel spin. Top speed in the field with ProDrive is 20 kph and 40 kph. on the road. The standard transmission version maxes out at 30 kph. Drive power is transferred through a 90-degree gearbox from the engine to a main drive belt, which delivers power to the ground drive and chopping components.

When it comes to chopping, the Dura-Drum system uses slotted knives which can slip back to increase clearance if they hit a rock, minimizing damage. 40-or 48-knife drums are available. The 40-knife model can chop material up to 26 millimetres (mm) in length, while the 48 can chop up to 22 mm in length with increased capacity. Specialty knives for both corn and grass chopping are available.

To control the cut, Deere’s IVLOC (Infinitely Variable Length of Cut) transmission can adjust the length in one millimeter intervals right from the cab and on the go. The cutting drum speed remains constant, only the feed roller speed changes.

The optional HarvestLab system provides on-the-go moisture content measurement of the crop material. When combined with the Harvest Monitor, productivity information such as acres and tonnes per hour is also available. Combine that with a GreenStar 2 display and AutoLOC can automatically adjust the length of cut based on moisture content to improve bulk density of the silage. All the operator has to do is program in the predetermined cut lengths for moisture levels.

Feed rolls are all stainless steel and the uppers are available with a spiral, fluted design or replaceable straight sections. To protect the cutting knives, Deere’s IntelliGuard metal detector is twice as sensitive as the Iron-Guard II system, and it has adjustable sensitivity settings. It can even be recalibrated to ignore damage to feed rolls while still detecting foreign objects.

The 7050s have updated cooling systems that include a rotary screen and brush to keep air moving and the radiator clear. Fan sizes range from 32 to 42 inches, depending on the model. The cooling condensers and radiator are located at the rear of the engine compartment.

Material flows horizontally through from the rollers to the cutter heads and is redirected vertically to the chute at the rear blower. Blower bands can be changed in about 15 minutes.

John Deere models also offer automatic spout positioning. Row- Trak guidance is available to provide auto steering for corn crops with 28 to 32-inch row spacings.

To provide enhanced after-sales service, Deere has created the forage FOCUS dealer network. FOCUS dealers offer 24/7 parts support, have loaner and demonstration machines on hand, have specially trained service technicians, offer customer training and have access to 24/7 factory support. According to, there are two FOCUS dealers in Western Canada — both are in Alberta.

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New Holland can trace its SP forage harvester lineage back to the first production model in 1961. Since then, the line has evolved to the current FR9000 Series. In 2008, they won the prestigious Machine of the Year award at the Agritechnica show in Germany. The current line-up offers five models. They range from 424 to 824 horsepower.

The FR9000s have the widest feed rolls and cutter head on the market. They use a 34.5-inch-wide cutter head available with 16 or 24 knives arranged in a chevron pattern. A reverse-rotation knife sharpening system is standard with automatic control from the cab. Cut length can be adjusted using the Hydroloc feed roll drive system. Optional Dual Drive allows for independent speed control of the pick up right from the cab without changing feed roll speed.

The Metaloc system detects ferrous metal at the feed rolls and immediately stops them to prevent pulling the object in and causing damage. The IntelliView II monitoring system provides the operator with the location of the metal piece to make it easier to clear and get started again. IntelliView II uses a colour, seven-inch monitor that also displays performance information and can be customized to show the machine functions the operator prefers.

An optional large crop processor is available for corn with 30-inch wide rollers to ensure all kernels are cracked, and the gap can be adjusted from one to 10 mm. To move the processor out of the way when chopping hay crops, a hand-operated hydraulic pump located in the service area hydraulically swings it clear in two minutes.

The FR9000s also use a Variflow accelerator to propel crops out the chute. When the large-crop processor is moved clear for hay chopping, the Variflow accelerator moves closer to the cutter head to improve crop flow and reduce power consumption. NH claims tests have shown this can reduce power demands by up to 40 horsepower.

The FR9000s also boasts the widest discharge spout at 13 inches, it also has 210 degrees of rotation.

When it comes to engines, the three smallest models, the FR9040, FR9050 and FR9060 use an Iveco/ Cursor six-cylinder engine. The FR9060’s engine uses the same compound turbo arrangement as the T9050 tractor. The FR9080 uses a C18 Caterpillar and the largest model, the FR9090, uses a massive 20-litre Iveco/Cursor V-8. All models offer NH’s PowerCruise engine load management system, which automatically adjusts ground speed to match the load.

These machines use a four-range hydrostatic transmission with electric shift and are capable of a top speed of 40 kph. Optional mechanical four-wheel drive is available on all models. Like the Deeres, the FR9000s also use an inline-mounted engine and 90-degree gearbox to turn a relatively short main drive belt.

When it comes to convenience, these machines offer automatic headland and spout functions as standard equipment on all models, which includes raising and lowering the header to preset heights with one button. Three programmable spout positions make it easy to switch from side to side.

The header switching system uses only one hydraulic quick-release block, which can be hooked up even under pressure. There is a new latch system that includes a handle, so no tools are needed. The PTO is easy to reach, and there is no need to crawl under the machine.

New Holland offers a 24/7 toll-free phone line number owners can call to expedite parts delivery, and they provide special breakdown assistance for FR9000 machines still under warranty.

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Of all four brands, Krone has the fewest Canadian dealers selling its forage harvesters. There are only two, one in Ontario and the other in B. C. But if big is what you need, Krone has it with their aptly-named BiG X line, whose flagship model tops out at 1,020 horsepower. The BiG X 1000 is the largest of only four models that start at 486 horsepower.

Krone has been in the forage harvester business for 32 years, starting off with pull-type machines in 1977. In the mid-1980s, the company launched its high-capacity SP line, eventually winning a Machine of the Year award at Agritechnica in 2006.

Following on the heels of the previous BiG M line of harvesters, the BiG X models are called the “Listening harvesters” by company management, because they (management) claim to have listened to customers and incorporated the features producers had been asking for. These machines were the first to break the 1,000-horsepower barrier in North America.

All that power comes from transverse- mounted Mercedes Benz diesels, just like the Claas machines. And Krone also uses the twin-engine concept in its two largest models, the BiG X 800 and 1000. These harvesters can be operated with both or only one engine in operation to minimize fuel consumption when full power isn’t required. In the 800, Krone uses a 510-316 horsepower engine duo, allowing for three different power specifications to exactly match road travel, light and heavy crop demands.

Krone says its header is designed to keep plants feeding through lying longitudinally, which helps ensure a consistent cut length and eliminates pulsing. When harvesting corn, the cut length can be varied automatically according to the crop’s moisture content. An optical sensor on the header detects the darker brown colour of more mature plants, adjusting the chop accordingly. All the operator has to do is set the maximum and minimum cut lengths desired. They can also be changed manually, or on the go.

To get the crop into the cutter, Krone uses a six-roller compression system — two more rollers than the competition — that applies up to 4.6 tonnes of pressure to compress the incoming crop for chopping. The two outer rollers are made of stainless steel with replaceable teeth. To protect the cutter drum, the BiG X machines have a six-magnet metal detector integrated into the lower front roller that is 820 mm from the drum, ensuring the mechanism stops long before metal pieces reach the cutters and cause damage.

The cutter drum is available with 20, 28 or 40 cutter bars mounted in a chevron pattern. Separate knives are available for corn and hay. The drum is 800 mm (31.5 inches) wide, with a cutting frequency ranging from 11,000 to 24,000 cuts per minute. This company prides itself on precise and consistent cut-length accuracy, which is adjustable in 0.1 mm increments.

The BiG X kernel processor is a one-piece, balanced design for smooth quiet operation. And because it has a large diameter, wear is reduced. Its roll gap can also be adjusted on the go from 0.5 to 10 mm. The processor can be removed in about 15 minutes with the aid of built-in electric winch.

Field speeds of up to 22 km/h and maximum travel speed of 40 km/h are possible with infinitely variable speed adjustments on the BiG X machines, and four-wheel drive is standard on all models.

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About the author


Scott Garvey

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



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