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Email from Ed Garrett from Fresh Spin Farms
  • Comment by Ed Garrett from Fresh Spin Farms:

    Hi all,

    I just wanted to share a quick heads up before you spend a lot of time recreating the wheel. The type of combines described by Bob Waldrop in his recent email to the COMFOOD listserve alread exist in Southeast Asia.

    Second, but should be first, Combining is not the best option for gathering grains, especially those one wants to save for seed or high value specialty crops including very small and very large seeds. The combine is a combination of three technologies and compromises needed to make these portable and interconnected produce a solution where none of the necessary task of harvesting seed is accomplished near optimal conditions for either quality of product, or maximum collection.

    The combine allowed larger fields to be harvested in less time. Small fields have an opposite time element where setup time to maximize combine performance is limited by the small amount of work and both seed damage and seed loss increase dramatically. It would be better to re-evaluate the harvest system and consider breaking tasks back down into ideal components where less specialized equipment is needed for some components and stationary equipment that can be more easily monitored for optimal performance is used for critical functions such as threshing and cleaning.

    Feel free to contact me if you would like help sorting this out. I used a Gleaner Model K combine in a variety of crops and while it can be set for virtually any crop, this requires a large supply of alternate components to come close to a good running machine. The current estimate of $1000 for a farmer built machine does not come close to covering the cost of separate motors for different components. I have done this with purchasing hydraulic motors to convert the belt driven K to hydraulics for improved control of separate parts of the combined reaping and threshing processes.

    What you wish to accomplish is doable, but first go back up the line of history and look at the decisions to combine operations into a "combine". You will note the three drivers of moving to commodity crops, cheap fuel, and increasing operational size run counter to the goals of your overall operation, so creating a new, but smaller 'combine' probably does not make as much sense as working to recreate a reaper that allows maximum collection of seed. Moving biomass out of the field (straw, etc.) is not desirable, unless it has a valid use before being returned. Bedding with straw is a valid use, so why thresh in the field loosing valuable seed and then collect straw to bring out of the field for bedding? Change this around and bring both the seed and necessary biomass out of the field, thresh in an area that can be contained and excess biomass can be utilized for fiber, feed, fuel, or composted efficiently allowing heat from composting to warm buildings. Compost can then
    be returned to the field along with any other off site nutrient supply such as animal manures.

    Threshing and seed cleaning in a stationary position allows a common power source to be applied to critical tasks while animal motive power or a lesser amount of electrical, human, combustible fuel motive power is required for "harvesting". While greater tonnage is moved from the field, efficiency comes from capturing the 10 - 30% or more of seed loss associated with small fields harvested by relatively untrained operators. It takes years and thousands of acres to become accomplished at setting up and adjusting a combine for just a couple of crops. When looking at diversified operations, the numbers of crops increase along with crop value and the opportunity time for learning decreases. Place, climate, seasonal, and crop variations change necessary machine settings from year to year and throughout individual harvest days. Incorrect settings as simple as threshing speed can render a complete crop of beans worthless for seed if the seed has so much as a hairline crack.

    If you do want to build or produce plans for a small combine that can be built by individual farmers, these should already exist. However, I feel evaluating the best practice for each step of the process will show a combine is not the ideal tool for the job.

    Ed Garrett
    Fresh Spin Farms
  • 7 Comments sorted by
  • Appropriate Technology defined. Haha. Read E.F. Schumacher's essays on the subject, Ed's email here really hits on with this concept.
  • Yes, this exactly.
    I had reacted negatively to the use of the word "combine" in the GVCS before. Mr. Garrett said it more eloquently and succinctly than I could have.
    We must always be careful of making exactly this kind of error with other technologies. . . We don't need a small "combine" to harvest our crops just because the big farms use big combines... What else are we copying just because "that's how it's done"? In what ways might we be better off with different, lower-tech or diversified technologies?
    Stationary processing not only serves the interests of better yield and utility that Mr. Garrett described.
    Stationary processing also can better take advantage of greener alternative energy sources. Why burn diesel to process crops when you could do it with wind power or solar, or whatever?
    I hope we can learn a broader lesson from this example, and really make a habit of asking ourselves "Why are we doing this THIS WAY?" and "Is there a better way, a simpler way, a forgotten old way, that might be better for GVCS?"
  • I think these are all good comments and thinking along these lines is one reason why I looked for and posted links at the wikie regarding the design and development of the McCormick Reaper technology, and also some info about stationary threshers. Perhaps we need to change the name of the project to something along the lines of "Grain and Bean Harvesting Systems".
  • I'd also like to note that I at least am well aware of the availability of small combine systems manufactured elsewhere, and in fact posted links to quite a few of them at the wiki. But the price tag on them is way beyond the reach of most of the small producers that I know and work with in our developing local food system in Oklahoma. We need something that can be built in farm country, whether it is a self-propelled micro-combine, a combine pulled by a tractor, or a reaper that works with a stationary thresher.
  • It seems like we have a slight impasse. In terms of serving the third world, a different idea might make sense. Yet, in terms of providing assistance to people in the midwest (for example) the combine might be the best approach. Established farmers might find the combine more useful. I don't know. I guess there is a lot going both directions here.
  • I really like what what Mr. Garret has to say.  A modular approach would help.  To me, the thresher is the key.
    As I've mentioned elsewhere, the labor of cutting sheaves (perhaps with a cradle) and hauling
    them in from the field, while non-trivial, is as nothing compared to the threshing.  For my part
    I'd probably just want that piece initially.  I saw an old threshing machine demo'd at a living
    history museum and I've wanted one ever since.  I strongly recommend that anyone putting serious
    thought or effort into this project look for a chance to try doing the work the (very) old fashioned way.  You'll learn
    where the hard parts are and get a feel for what the machinery has to do because you've done it
    with your own hands. 
  • Well I assume you emailed him back asking for help, with a username and password for him for the wiki?

    If you did you should probably say so I think, because there needs to be some verification that sort of valuable thing is followed up on, or people like me have to do it again to make sure it gets done.

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