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People have been farming crops since the dawn of civilization. Until recently, the processes used to harvest them looked remarkably similar across the ages, with modern farmers using largely the same systems as those employed in the earliest examples of agriculture. Thankfully, all of that has changed. This article will take a look at the evolution of harvesting equipment and where it stands today to show how those changes came about and what they mean for both farmers and the people that enjoy the fruits of their labors.
The first significant piece of harvester equipment was invented in the 1900s. The combine harvester got the name because it combines three essential and very time-consuming operations:
The development of mechanical tools to accomplish these tasks dramatically improved the efficiency of modern grain farming operations.
The first patented combine, designed and released in 1834 by Moore and Haschall from Kalamazoo, Michigan, incorporated many modern features. It used a reciprocating sickle to cut stalks, a reel to push the grain onto a platform, a threshing cylinder, and screens and fans for cleaning the finished grain. However, it was pulled by teams of draft animals, with up to 30 mules required to pull the machine.
In the late 19th century, George Stockton Berry designed the first steam-powered combine, and inventors across the globe began coming up with more refined versions of harvesting and threshing machines. However, it wasn’t until 1911 that the first self-propelled combine was designed. Until then, it took four to five men to work animal-driven combines.
International Harvester released the first tractor-pulled combine in 1915. Similar models were released by John Deere and J.I. Case in the 1920s, all of which were rapidly adopted by farmers across the country after World War I. They grew in popularity and became commonplace across the United States and Canada, with 75,000 of them in use by the end of the decade.
The first self-propelled combine was designed and manufactured in Australia in 1923. The center-feeding, T-shaped configuration was much closer to that of today’s most popular machines. Market competition was fierce among manufacturers at first, but by 1925, Benjamin Holt had acquired and merged most of the companies into Caterpillar and dominated the markets. The combined line was sold to Deere and Company in 1936.
Over the years, combine harvester designs continued to be refined, but they remained largely the same in terms of function. Hydraulic technology allowed manufacturers to use an industrial hose, pumps, and motors to develop hydrostatic drive systems. Simple variable sheaves were also hydraulically controlled.
On-board electronics were introduced into combines in the 1980s to measure machine efficiency. Sensors showed when excess grain was slipping through the mechanism, allowing the operator to adjust the parameters. The early 2000s brought the addition of GPS to harvesters, which allowed farmers to observe how each section of the field was performing so that they could maximize output by adjusting fertilizer, water, and pesticide levels.
For the first century after the development of the earliest combined models, inventors’ focus was on grain crops exclusively. In the 1960s, early hay balers were introduced, as were early orchard sweepers. Early versions of mechanical tomato, potato, and grape harvesters were also developed during this time. Since then, an astounding number of different agricultural tools have been developed to automate elements of farming and increase efficiency.
In the 21st century, farms of all sizes take advantage of highly advanced harvesting and processing machines. The quality of the equipment makes it suitably cost-effective for smaller farms to keep older machines running by ordering parts from an industrial rubber manufacturer and performing repairs on-site. Larger agricultural operations have been diversifying their crop harvesting equipment to include not just basic combines for grain crops but also other crucial machines, often including:
Olive harvesters are pieces of equipment that shake olive trees to release the fruit for collection in a central location instead of relying on farm workers to pick it by hand. Other tree fruits can also be collected in this manner using specialized machines. Most versions collect the sensitive crops in nets, then use a conveyor belt to remove them from the orchard for processing.
Some nut harvesters work like olive harvesters, but others are designed to collect the crop straight off the ground. These types of nut harvesters can be either man-powered or tractor-pulled and feature adjustable tines that engage the nuts, pulling them up and launching them into a basket beneath the machine.
Potato harvesters are machines that till the dirt around this root crop to bring them to the surface. From small-scale potato harvesters to large, tractor-pulled machines, they are becoming increasingly commonplace on modern farms.
Lettuce is one of the hardest leafy greens to harvest, and until recently, the process had to be performed by hand. Robotic lettuce harvesters are designed to alleviate this problem. They feature aspirators fitted with side-shifting cutting bars that harvest the lettuce while leaving the residues of the crop on the ground.
Carrots, like potatoes, are root crops, which makes them difficult to harvest. Tow-behind carrot harvesters can be used with standard tractors to perform the work of hundreds of laborers. Like a potato harvester, the machine tills the soil around the carrots and pulls them to the surface for easier gathering.
In-field harvesting equipment isn’t the only thing that has advanced in recent years. Automatic cow milking machines featuring sterilized industrial rubber products allow farmers to eliminate the need for milking by hand without creating issues with milk quality. Robotic automated milking machines remove the need for human intervention even in applying the automatic pumps to the animals’ utters.
When agricultural leaders need parts for their harvesting equipment, they can turn to California Industrial Rubber Company. We’ve been supplying the industry since 1958, and in that time, we’ve developed a reputation for quality products and amazing customer service. Browse our website to learn about our parts selection or reach out for a quote today.