Hoping to reduce the amount of crop residue left in the fields after wheat harvest, Washington state farmers Curtis Coombs and Steve Shoun developed a system that also saves them a field pass.

By fusing a combine and a baler, the pair was able to channel all the straw, chaff and fines from the combine directly into the baler. The result: A one-pass system that harvests grain and makes bales, leaving very little crop residue behind.

With Walla Walla County's wheat yields averaging 110 bu/acre, most combines expel quite a bit of straw, says Coombs. “Then you're left with a thick layer of residue to get rid of. We wanted to avoid having to burn it off or plow it in.”

The pair originally came up with the two-in-one machine idea after talking to a friend in Australia. “He helped us develop the basic design. But we have a lot more hills than they do in Australia, so we had to work around the leveling mechanism on our combines, which made it a bit more complicated,” says Coombs.

Attaching a Hesston 4790 baler to the back of a Case 8010H combine took some clever mechanics.

“We basically cut the front off the baler, built a conveyor belt between the two on top of a newly fabricated hitch assembly, then redid the hydraulics and added several pumps,” says Coombs. “All of the baler hydraulics are now controlled from the combine.”

Three cameras mounted on the back half of the combine are connected to a monitor in the cab, allowing the operator to view the whole operation in the back as he moves through the field.

“You do need a 400-hp engine to handle the volume of material and all the added hydraulics and weight,” he notes.

The cost of combining the two systems was about $50,000, which included having some parts fabricated at local welding and hydraulics shops, says Coombs. “Anyone who would want to do this would also need to have a bale retriever and truck or grain cart to unload grain on the go.

“It took us a season to get a lot of the bugs worked out of the system, as well as to fine-tune field operation,” he continues. “Last year we covered about 1,000 acres with the system, and we hope to increase that to about 1,500 acres this season, but that's only part of 5,000 acres we harvest each year. With only 40-45 days to harvest our crop, we can't use it on all our acres.”

Coombs, who farms with son-in-law Jason Lynch, built a second Combaler last year for their own operation. Shoun owns the first one. “We also built it so that the baler and conveying system could be removed and the combine used independently. That takes about three hours, but is relatively simple.”

He says they typically get between 10 and 15 4 × 3 × 8' bales of wheat straw per acre, and now, with the Combaler system, each of those bales weighs an extra 100 lbs due to the added chaff and fines.

“This system allows us to capture all the residue in the bales, so we don't have to burn those acres. The fields are so much cleaner, and we can no-till right into them the next season.”

To view a video of the bale system in the field, visit strauff-fiber.com. Phone: 509-382-9611.