Can farm equipment really be sustainable?

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UPDATED 31/12/2021 1:30 CST – This story has been updated from an earlier version which contained outdated material

“How durable is my five-year-old German combine harvester and maybe still functional for another decade, but now it’s scrap because I can’t find a replacement electronic panel?”

This is what a farmer in Manitoba, whose situation is far from unique, is asking for.

The panel he needed could not be found. Every scrapped Claas had long since been stripped of that particular part. So he and a buddy “fixed” the faulty part.

It worked. Kind of. Except for a few security issues.

“Manufacturers are building twice as many combines as the market can absorb,” said Larry Hertz, vice president of the Western Equipment Dealers Association.

“North American farmers could buy 6,500 combines next year. Companies are building twice that number. Where’s the sustainability in that?

“Obviously, as machines become obsolete and electronic systems become obsolete, I’m not sure that many of these components will remain in production. These parts become more expensive over time and this makes the machine obsolete.

“Some people may try to fix circuit boards or build new ones, but that becomes a safety factor. If you build your own panels and they don’t meet OEM (original equipment manufacturer) specs or specs, you could have a hidden problem that can create a big problem in the field or on the road.

Hertz says the used combine market is a real problem in terms of durability. Many combines are first generation owner traded with 200 to 400 hours. Traditionally, these combines were purchased by medium-sized farmers.

But the proliferation of large farms has come at the expense of medium-sized farms. These second-generation buyers are disappearing, which has disrupted the combine harvester market.

Gene Breker is one of the founders of Amitytech, and before that worked with the development of the venerable Concord air drill. He regularly deals with farmers on issues of outdated technology and sustainability.

“Farmers don’t like to scrap a piece of equipment if there’s still life in it, or if it’s just the electronics that have gone bad,” says Breker.

“Farmers really appreciate that our single disc seeder has gone through four electronic cycles in 13 years. Four different electronic systems so that the drill can continue to work, because the mechanical components do not wear out. The electronics are constantly improving, which is why we have developed four complete electronic sets for the drill.

“A complete electronic change costs from $5,000 to $8,000. This includes new sensors, a new wiring harness and everything else. The entire industry is ISO now and almost everything made now plugs into the tractor’s ISO monitor head, so you rarely need to buy a new monitor head.

Breker says there’s virtually no market for used seeding and tillage machines in the 60-foot to 80-plus range. Farmers looking for used equipment want machines 40 feet and under. In terms of durability, that leaves a lot of expensive orphan iron.

“It’s a serious problem. Over the years I’ve suggested the company make a 60ft machine designed to remove 10ft wingtips and turn it into a 40ft machine” , explains Breker.

“When it comes to seeding and tillage, I don’t think there’s a lot of waste. Do you remember Concord? We have sold over 5,000 Concords in North America. Almost everyone is still working. Farmers have found different ways to use them. You very rarely see a scrapped Concord in the trees. I think it meets the sustainability criteria.

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