A few weeks ago, we took a look at an interesting use of Facebook undertaken by the folks at Agco Corporation. The aim, to create some viral interest in a new combine that'll be coming out for season 2011, which they're calling the Super 7. In the original blog post - Using Facebook to Build Momentum we looked at the idea of promoting the combine as if it were a person you could "friend" on the popular site. And I, of course, became the combine's friend (more on that below). Of course, as a long-time machinery editor, I am a friend of all brands and colors of machines, but this social media approach is very interesting.
This week I got a chance to catch up with the actual Super 7 combine near Brewster, Kan., where it's part of a group of Gleaner combines run by custom cutter Mel Gossen and his crew. Mel is from Corn, Okla.
Now here's the hard part - I can't tell you too much about the combine now - because we're honoring Agco's embargo. We all agree that your local dealer should get the big details before we spill them so they're ready when you go in to buy. But there were plenty of tantalizing hints offered up by Kevin Bien, product marketing manager, Agco.
Kevin Bien, combine product marketing manager, Agco Corporation, filled in a few ag media on Super 7 prototype Gleaner combine. What model number it'll finally have remains to be seen.
Bien provided a small group of ag media a discussion of the Gleaner concept and how over the last 30 months he and a team of engineers have been working on significant improvements of this machine. Of course, the Gleaner is already unique in its transverse design, which Bien notes offers improved material flow and more efficient threshing.
"We don't have the pinch points that you might find in an axial machine," he points out. "But we've been involved in making significant changes to every part of this combine."
Bien says the rush to bigger combines to tackle bigger crops may reach a law of diminishing returns. "How big can a combine get?" he asks. Over the past decade, farmers have moved from the Class 6 combine with up to 324 horsepower to the class 7 machines with 325 to 374 horsepower. But there's growing interest in even bigger machines, such as those class 8 machines with engine horsepower above 375. And of course the engine class for the new Class 9 combines has yet to be defined.
The Super 7 combine prototype in black stealth colors, cuts into a wheat field - that was averaging about 75 bushels per acre. The machine left a wide, even spread of straw and chaff as it went by as well.
"But how big can a combine get? Farmers are worried about compaction and a bigger combine can make that worse. And what about fuel consumption?" he points out.
Compaction is a hot issue. Custom Cutter Gossen notes that in the wheat field we were in that the owner didn't want to see soil compression beyond the width of the tire tread - on wetter soils you can see some wider "hipping" around tires when conditions are too wet. "If that starts to happen we have to pull out of the field," he notes.
And that's just one challenge facing combine designers today - boosting capacity while keeping compaction in mind. In addition, the changing crop is also testing combine engineers. "Greener soybean stalks and higher-yielding corn are a big challenge," Bien notes. "We have to meet that demand because the farmer doesn't want to give up harvest productivity."
So what does it all mean? Here's what I can share: Agco is planning to launch a new combine in the Class 7 sweet spot - which is about 45% of all combine sales these days. Look for this machine to offer a significant boost in productivity over its R76 predecessor. Gossen shared that the Super 7 was moving through the field at the same speed as its sibling R76, but was carrying a draper header that's 10 feet wider - Agco's newest. Note also, that the outside of this new combine might not be much different than its predecessors either - as noted in the image below - except perhaps those grain tank extensions that are pretty likely to boost the Super 7 beyond the R76's industry-leading 330-bushel grain tank size.
Lined up with its R76 brethren, the Super 7 doesn't look much different - except for that big 9250 draper header, which was introduced at the Farm Progress Show in 2009, but went into production in late June.
As for the Facebook thing? Well, I got to meet my new friend in person and the photo below shows us getting some time together. Not very talkative (darn embargo!), but an eyeful to look at as the machine goes through the field. We'll share more in mid-August when we will have the full specs - that's when Agco will be giving us the information. Rest assured, the Class 7 combine market is about to get a little more feisty.
Just me and my buddy Super 7 - oh and a few close ag media friends - as we got to meet this Facebook friend.