Combines are a familiar sight these days in the corn and soybean fields of East Central Illinois. Ever wonder what the huge machines cost and how they're equipped? Folks from area farm implement dealers provide an update on those hulks of the harvest.
How much do those monsters cost?
Expect to pay somewhere between $330,000 and $500,000 if you're buying new and paying list price.
The list price for new Case IH combines range from $330,000 to $487,000, and that's for base models with no add-ons, said Greg Stierwalt, a sales representative for Birkey's in Urbana.
Most new John Deere combines are priced from $380,000 to $480,000, said Michael Cessna, a sales representative for the Arends-Hogan-Walker (AHW) dealership east of Urbana.
With add-on features, farmers might be looking at $500,000 for a combine, "but you could get up to $600,000 real easy," Cessna said.
Those prices don't include the corn header and soybean header attachments you need for harvest. Budget $50,000 to $100,000 for each of those.
Why the range in price for combines? Bigger models tend to have greater horsepower, bigger grain tanks and can accommodate bigger header attachments.
A big factor bumping up the price: upgrades to meet new emission standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
As is the case with cars, few buyers pay list price — there are often promotional discounts and trade-in deals.
A combine is a big capital investment for farmers, but remember it's not the only equipment purchase they make. They also need tractors — which cost in the same range — as well as planters and tillage equipment.
What features do today's combines have?
Combines are equipped with guidance systems that help farmers steer through the field. They're also equipped with monitors that tell operators how much moisture is in the crop and yield figures for that part of the field.
Newer models can be furnished with built-in refrigerators and fold-downs for laptop and tablet computers. As is the case with cars, farmers can elect to install video cameras to capture what's behind them when they're backing up.
Today's combines are equipped with high-intensity lights — much brighter than in previous years — that help enable night farming, Stierwalt said.
Plus, "the cabs are a lot nicer and quieter," he said.
But if you want music or talk, you can get combines with Bluetooth compatibility and SiriusXM radio capability, Cessna said.
You can also order heated leather seats. But Cessna said 95 percent to 98 percent of farmers opt for cloth upholstery. They figure they're going to get grease on the seats, so they might as well spoil cloth upholstery than the more expensive leather.
Stierwalt said some of the biggest add-ons include: the installation of tracks for negotiating muddy fields ($70,000 range), rear four-wheel-drive ($20,000 range) and guidance systems ($12,000 range).
For big farming operations, there are "telematics" options that enable a farm operator to get information on all the combines in operation through the use of cellular signals, Stierwalt said.
How many farmers buy new, as opposed to used?
That varies with the farm economy.
This year, with low corn and soybean prices, farmers are tending to buy more used equipment than new. But the previous three years — when crop prices were higher — were good years for new equipment sales.
"This year, not as many new combines are being sold as were sold last fall." Cessna said.
Used combine sales always outstrip new combine sales, but with the stronger farm economy the past few years, "we came closer to being even," he said.
How long do farmers keep combines?
That varies with the individual and the size of farm.
A few folks still run 30-year-old combines, Stierwalt said.
But really big farmers may keep their combines a maximum of five years, while medium-size operations may use combines for up to 10 years, he said.
"The bigger farmers usually keep them one to three years," Cessna said. "There are small farmers who have had the same combine for 15 to 20 years."
Why the big difference? A combine's life correlates with its hours of use.
"The more hours you get, the more repairs you have," Cessna said.
Do farmers take test drives when buying new?
Very rarely. Generally, new combines have to be ordered six months in advance of shipment — and they're usually sold sight unseen, save for a brochure.
Dealerships might have a few new combines in stock, "but the majority we pre-sell," Stierwalt said.
At AHW, "we have to have orders for next year's combines by late November or early December to be guaranteed to get one," Cessna said.
The new combines arrive during spring and summer, in time for fall harvest, he said.
What do farmers ask when buying?
"The main thing is hours on the machine, like a car has mileage," Cessna said.
Combines have two separate hour meters — one measuring how many hours the engine has been running, and the other measuring how many hours the separator — the part of the machine separating kernels from corn ears and soybeans from pods and stems — has been operating.
"Guys will also look at tire conditions," Cessna said. "That's a big thing since stalks and bean stubble can be very hard on tires."
Fuel economy doesn't tend to be a big consideration, he added.
Instead of miles per gallon, farmers generally think in terms of gallons per acre or gallons per engine hour, Stierwalt said.
Often farmers will come in, saying they're looking for a machine that's 'x' years old, with 'y' number of hours on it and about the same size as what they're using now.
How do farmers pay for the equipment?
Again, it depends on the buyer's circumstances.
"If they do finance, it's usually five-year loans," Cessna said. "Some pay cash. Some may write a check, but they may finance through a local bank rather than through John Deere, so you really don't know (the details)."