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Your guide to buying a harvester

Andrew Hobbs chats with machinery brokers in Australia for information on what buyers and sellers should expect when buying a combine harvester second-hand on either side of the ditch

With the business of agriculture becoming increasingly streamlined, ensuring maximum reward for investment is of utmost importance. Nick Rouhan, who runs agricultural machinery brokers Growth Equipment out of a base in New South Wales, Australia has a blunt opening statement for all his sellers at the moment.

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Proper preparation is important before investing in a combine harvester

While in a normal situation, harvesters would be sold to a buyer who lived within 500km of its home base, Nick says that in the current market, buyers can be located twice the normal distance away.

“The first thing I say to a vendor is whatever you want for it, take $10,000 off,” he says.
“Because if it’s going to end up in South Australia or Victoria, by the time you transport an oversize header and a header front there, it’s going to cost the buyer $10k, so they are going to want that off the buy price straightaway.”

Andrew Lewis of Murrumbidgee Machinery Brokers says it’s important to remember that a harvester is only going to be worth what someone is prepared to pay. “It’s an opportunist’s market at the moment because seasonal conditions in northern NSW aren’t looking that good.

Fair enough, there’s nothing wrong with that, and if dealers and vendors are happy to make a deal and let a machine go for what the deal is, so be it,” he says. The brokers agree on these five factors that will help any individual looking to buy and to help any seller make sure their harvester stands out from the crowd.

Purpose

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The award-winning New Holland CR combine harvester

It might sound simple, but Nick says the most common mistake he sees with buyers is a failure to plan properly before going out and buying. “They need to ask themselves why they are updating the header.

Are they updating because they want a newer machine, a bigger machine, or are they updating because they want to swap their farm practices to controlled traffic farming, which is really taking off?

“If you’re buying because you want to strip more crop, then you’re probably going to have to buy a newer, bigger header than you have already got.” This also applies when considering the header front, he says, noting that the header will only do as good a job as the front that is there.

“Anything over five years old, if you want to go to a front that’s 40 foot or over, and they are going into 50 or 60 foot now, you need to ask: is the header actually going to be able to lift that front?” he says.

“Usually in private sale they won’t split them up, but at a dealer, definitely ask the question – can I buy the header without the front, or if they have a front there you want ask to do a deal. There is always a deal to be done.”

Quality

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The Claas Jaguar 900 at work

Both Nick and Andrew are in the business of appraising and preparing reports on harvesters that are up for sale – and both say that farmers can easily spend $30,000 on repair before the harvest season even starts.

To help reduce this cost, Andrew recommends a potential buyer should consider bringing a harvester mechanic along with them to inspect the vehicle. “At the end of the day, people have to remember they are used harvesters, they are not new harvesters, so things are going to be a bit worn,” he says.

“But a mechanic will pick up mechanical faults. There are a lot of moving parts in a harvester, and if you are unsure mechanically yourself, take a mechanic with you.” Nick agrees, saying even experienced buyers can become overwhelmed when looking at a big, expensive machine, and forget they key points they planned to look at.

“If you can’t [get a mechanic], ask the seller for any invoices for previous work done in the lead up to the past couple of harvests, and that will give you a pretty good idea of the condition of it,” he says.

“Don’t just take their word for it; actually ask for copies of it. Anyone running a business will have copies of the invoices for their books, so it is not that hard to share that with a potential buyer.”

Readiness

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Andrew says most people wanting to buy a harvester – particularly those who have got good crops coming in and who want to harvest quickly – will want their machine to be crop ready.

“It’s another year where crucial rainfall at the end of the season will make a difference – and a lot of the header buyers then will become impulse buyers. They know that it’s going to be worth a good premium so they will spend the money to get it off quick.”

To ensure that the machine is ready to go, many dealers will conduct their own pre-season checks, which a buyer can consider, Andrew says, though he adds that some dealers will prefer to hedge their bets.

“Any machines they can get away with getting through the season without doing major repairs, they will sit it out the front, discount it a fraction but it will get it through this season,” he says.

For Nick, it’s also important to consider the cleanliness of a header when looking to buy it.
“If you go and inspect the header and there’s still grain in the grain tank and straw all over it, chances are it’s going to have some damage from mice, when being stored,” he says.

Support

Nick adds that despite the fact that the harvester is being bought second-hand, having access to a dealer support network is still important. “It’s still worth looking around to see who’s a good local dealer for headers, because in the end, every piece of machinery breaks down and you’re going to need to buy parts and service for it,” he says.

“There’s no point in buying a John Deere if there is no dealer for 300–400km. When there’s a Case IH dealer locally, maybe that’s something to consider.” Andrew adds that the top harvester brands will always have replacement parts available, adding that a greater range of aftermarket parts is now available. “Non-genuine parts are cheaper if you want, but you pay for what you get,” he says.

Test drive

Finally, both brokers say buyers should get in the cabin and get the machine running before signing on the dotted line, even if the mechanic is coming. “Don’t just look at it,” Nick says. “At least start the engine, have the engine running, and ask to engage the threshing mechanism so you can hear it all and see it all running.”

Andrew agrees, saying that turning the engine over would help mechanics know if
any further attention was needed. “It’s all very well to run the harvester in the shed, but unless you pull it out, put the front on it and run it you don’t know what is going on,” Andrew says.   

Find more combined harvesters for sale in NZ.

Photography: Andrew Hobbs

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