Mechanisation: Buy the right harvester for your farm


Farming machinery is a significant financial investment. These guidelines will help you buy the best harvester for your operation.

If you are in the business of harvesting grain, you will know that a harvester is an expensive piece of equipment. When you consider that a farmer’s livelihood depends on the crop in the field, however, you will realise how critical it is to use the best harvester you can afford.

Kobus Olwagen, a harvester specialist, says farmers shouldn’t only consider a harvester’s price tag when deciding which one to buy. “What is most important is the quality of the machine, its parts and whether it will do a good job of harvesting. The quality of the gathering mechanism is key. You want to deliver as much as possible to the silo,” Olwagen says.

The goal of harvesting is to gather as much of the crop as possible into the grain tank, leaving minimal wastage on the field.


He recommends that a farmer new to the business speak to a specialist in the field, or a reputable company selling harvesters, to draw up a mechanisation plan for the farm.

Many factors have to be taken into account before buying a harvester – the soil type, for instance, and the number of hectares to be harvested.

A mechanisation specialist will meet the farmer to discuss these issues, and will inspect the farm, its conditions and the crop to be harvested, and then advise the farmer which harvester is best for the job.

It is critical to calculate the daily cost of running a particular harvester at harvest time. “Remember that the recommended harvester might be more expensive to purchase, but in the long run the cost of running it could be cheaper,” he explains.

Also read: Mechanisation: A short guide for new farmers


Olwagen recommends that farmers look at the market and talk to other farmers. “See which other brands are popular. It is good to draw on other farmers’ experience,” he says.

Before buying, farmers should also check that there is satisfactory after-sales service for that brand. “If the brand of machine you want to buy is well-known, it is likely that after-sales support will be available. Beware of fly-by-night companies that will leave you in the lurch,” he cautions.

Farmers should also insist on receiving training for themselves and the workers who will operate the harvester. Even farmers who are familiar with harvesters have to learn the specifics of the new machine.

Rather buy a harvester that is operator-friendly. The computer system must be easy to understand and should be explained to the operator. “Choose a harvester with simple, but good mechanics, otherwise there is too much room for mistakes and this will only increase harvesting time,” he says.


Training technicians should also show the farmer how to get the most from his harvester. Ensure that the machine is calibrated for the crop you will be harvesting.

“It must be set up for a particular crop; a harvester cannot function on a one-size-fits-all basis.”

Farmers should also ensure that they purchase the right headers. “There are different headers for each crop – such as maize, wheat or soya – and these are purchased separately,” he says.

Operators should never harvest with the incorrect header, as this will compromise harvesting efficiency.


“Buying a harvester is just like buying a car. If it isn’t maintained it will not perform well and won’t be reliable,” Olwagen says.

Farmers can’t afford to have an unreliable harvester, as the window to harvest must be utilised as efficiently as possible. Once you’ve bought a harvester, it is important to keep up its maintenance programme.

This will ensure that it functions optimally and extend its lifespan. Olwagen says that the dealership should provide services while the harvester still falls within its service plan. But the farmer could carry out maintenance such as changing oil filters and checking moving parts.

Ensure that the devices responsible for monitoring the risk of fire while you are harvesting are not malfunctioning.
“It is important that these mechanisms are serviced regularly. The driver should be trained to identify potential problems, such as fires,” he explains.

He adds that the lifespan of harvesters ranges widely from 7 to 10 years, although farmers do choose to use them for shorter or longer periods. “Remember that the older the equipment is, the higher the likelihood is of its requiring more maintenance,” he says.

Harvesters that have fewer moving parts generally require less maintenance.

Make sure that your harvester has a good resale value. “This is another reason why it helps to buy reputable brands and high-quality machines. Machines with fewer hours on the clock will have a higher resale value,” he explains.

Also read: Keep every machine in good working order!


Every harvester has a different harvesting capacity, so farmers should buy one that is suitable for the number of hectares to be harvested. Harvesting should take place within a reasonable time frame, without over-working the machine.

“Don’t buy a machine that is too small, just to save on the purchase price,” he says. This only means that harvesting will take longer, and there is more room for error as the driver will get tired.

There is also a higher risk of harvesting being interrupted as a result of factors such as rain or fire. To decrease risk, farmers should harvest as quickly as possible.


  • Harvesting equipment can be dangerous and operators should always take care when using such machinery.
  • A helpful tip is never to try to adjust parts or repair faults while the harvester is running.

Also read:
Pointers for buying a tractor
How to choose a good planter

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.

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