Views: 185 Author: Site Editor Publish Time: 2007-09-18 Origin: Site
In 1800, something like 90 percent of the entire US population was employed working the land; fast-forward 200 years and you'll find only 2 percent of people are now working this way. What caused that amazing change in society? One important factor was the development of huge, automated machines such as combine harvesters that made each agricultural worker vastly more productive. Let's take a closer look at how they work!
What does harvesting involve?
The crops we grow in our fields, such as wheat, barley, and rye, are only partly edible. We can use the seeds at the top of each plant (known as the grain) to make products like bread and cereal, but the rest of the plant (the chaff) is inedible and has to be discarded.
Before modern-day machines were developed, agricultural workers had to harvest crops by carrying out a series of laborious operations one after another. First they had to cut down the plants with a long-handled cutting tool such as a scythe. Next, they had to separate the edible grain from the inedible chaff by beating the cut stalks—an operation known as threshing. Finally, they had to clean any remaining debris away from the seeds to make them suitable for use in a mill. All this took a lot of time and a lot of people.
Thankfully, modern combine harvesters do the whole job automatically: you simply drive them through a field of growing crops and they cut, thresh, and clean the grains all by themselves using rotating blades, wheels, sieves, and elevators. The grain collects in a tank inside the combine harvester (which is periodically emptied into tractors that drive alongside), while the chaff spurts from a big exit pipe at the back and falls back down onto the field.
Inside a combine harvester
There are a lot going on inside a combine harvester—gears, blades, augers (screws that move cut crops), conveyors, belts, levers, and wheels—so we've vastly simplified everything to make it easier to follow. Roughly speaking, here's how a combine harvester works:
1. Cereal crops are gathered in by the header at the front, which has a pair of sharp pincers called crop dividers at either end. Generally speaking, the wider the header, the faster and more efficiently a harvester can cut a field. Different headers are used for cutting different crops; the header is often hydraulically powered and can be raised, lowered, and angled in different ways from the cab. The header can be removed and towed behind the harvester lengthwise so it can fit down narrow lanes.
2. A slowly rotating wheel called the reel (or pickup reel) pushes the crops down toward the cutter. The reel has horizontal bars called bats and vertical teeth or tines to grip the plant stalks.
3. The cutter bar runs the entire length of the header underneath the reel. Its teeth (sometimes called mowing fingers) open and close repeatedly to cut off the crops at their base, a bit like a giant electric hedge cutter sweeping along at ground level.
4. Behind the cutter bar, the cut crops are fed toward the center by spinning augers (screws) and travel up a conveyor to the processing mechanism inside the main part of the combine.
5. A threshing drum beats the cut crops to break and shake the grains away from their stalks.
6. The grains fall through sieves into a collecting tank below.
7. The chaff (unwanted material) passes along conveyors called straw walkers toward the back of the machine. More grain falls through into the tank.
8. When the grain tank is full, a tractor with a trailer on the back pulls alongside the combine. The grain is carried up from the tank by an elevator and shoots out of a side pipe (sometimes called the unloader) into the trailer.
9. The unwanted straw chaff tumbles from the back of the machine. Some combines have a rotating spreader mechanism that throws the straw over a wide area. Sometimes the straw is baled up by a baling machine and used for animal bedding.