Do You Really Want What You Say You Want?
Dec 16, 2017
In the midst of off-season repairs and skyrocketing bills, many farmers (and mechanics) lament that modern farm equipment is too complicated and therefore too expensive. Customers frequently comment to me, "I wish they'd make a new combine (or tractor) as simple as Dad's old 7700 or 2388 combine (or 4020 or 806 tractor.)"
So let's imagine we could design a brand new combine that would be as simple and economical as Dad's old combine. What "expensive" parts and technologies would we leave off?
First off, the government would mandate that the diesel engine would have Tier IV exhaust technology, so add $20,000 to $50,000 to the baseline price. Optimum fuel economy using current diesel fuel on the market requires computerized electronic fuel injection (which also plays a role in meeting the federal exhaust guidelines,) so add a couple tens of grands for that. You've got to have slow shaft speed monitoring systems, and those are computerized on a CAN-bus network, so factor in a couple computers and associated wiring. Do you want air conditioning and heating in the cab? Figure a couple thousand for those luxuries. Then add a couple tens of thousands for hardened augers and auger housings, large diameter augers and auger housings, bigger fans, bigger sieves and more robust threshing components than Dad's old combine, because his combine was designed for 150-bu/ac corn, and you're routinely producing 180- to 250 bu/ac corn (depending whether you're talking to your banker or your neighbor.)
On the other hand, what can you get along without on this "bare-bones combine?" Skip the deluxe sound system with bluetooth, Sirius radio, CD player and quadrophonic speakers. Forget the heated leather seat and in-cab refrigerator. You'll have to get out of the cab on occasion, but that would save the cost of the on-the-go grain loss monitoring system that adjust the sieves and fan speed and rotor speed automatically. Go back to plain ol' incandescent lights and you'll save the cost of those four super-bright lights on the top of the cab that cost $1000 per lamp/transformer. It's hard to pin a price on those built-in components, but it's possible you could reduce the price by $100,000, depending on what you could live without.
There are a few items that are negotiable. You probably don't want to go without the automatic header height control system, but do you really need the auto steer system? Manually steering would eliminate the need for annual GPS subscriptions, GPS receivers, and as many as 10 different computers on the combine--but you'd lose your yield monitor and yield mapping capacity, which would have a ripple effect all through your planting, fertility and weed control planning.
It's tough to put a price on the various systems we're discussing, because most of them are integrated into the base price, and there's no way to pin a price on each component. In the end, our bare-bone combine might cost $150,000 to $200,000, compared to fully-outfitted combines that can reach more than $400,000, maybe more. No manufacturer is going to offer a bare-bones, stripped down combine, and to be honest, would you buy one and want to run it if they did?