In its pursuit of creating the ultimate high-output combine harvester, John Deere engineered a machine that not only redefined harvesting capacity but also came with a significant price tag.
With an impressive starting price exceeding £1 million, the X9 was designed to elevate the standards of daily harvesting volume and the value customers attributed to this capability.
To achieve its remarkable throughput of 100 tons per hour, Deere departed from the single-cylinder configuration of its S-series models, opting instead for twin 61cm rotors that are fed by a broad feeder house and crop accelerator. This configuration delivers approximately 45% higher output compared to the flagship S790i model, all while maintaining similar external dimensions.
Among those quick to recognize the potential of this new machine was Buckminster Farms, located near Grantham, Lincolnshire. The farm invested in two X9 1000 models, each equipped with 12-meter draper headers.
We had the opportunity to speak with Farm Manager Matthew Wallace and Operator Harry Rouston to gain insights into their experience operating these cutting-edge machines.
What Influenced Your Decision to Opt for the X9 Pair?
Matthew: We were operating two Claas Lexion 8700 combines with 12-meter headers, but they were falling short in terms of output needed to effectively cover our harvesting area.
While engine power was ample, the threshing area was insufficiently large and efficient. As a result, we often had to run the machines at only 60% of their potential power to avoid overloading the system and increasing losses.
Although Claas Eastern provided excellent support, and the Lexions were cost-effective due to their strong resale value, we felt it was time to explore new options.
Various brands offered us demo machines, many of which faced similar limitations as the Lexion. Then, Farol introduced us to the X9.
Having operated numerous large combines over the years, I can confidently say that I’ve never encountered a machine quite like the X9. It consistently handled high volumes of crop at any speed, produced clean samples, and minimized losses regardless of the workload.
Even when utilizing 95% of the engine power, the internal components managed the throughput with ease. For instance, in a standing 10-ton-per-hectare wheat crop with a 12-meter draper header, it was able to operate at 9 kilometers per hour.
We finalized a deal to purchase two of the smaller X9 1000 models for the 2022 season, though manufacturing delays resulted in only one being delivered.
This machine worked alongside one of the Lexion 8700 models and managed nearly 70% of the harvesting. The second X9 arrived at the beginning of this season, proving invaluable as it allowed us to continue cutting vast areas whenever weather conditions permitted.
Moisture didn’t seem to pose a problem, with drying costs being the main determinant of when we could proceed with harvesting operations.
Selection of Headers
Matthew: We decided to go with 12-meter RD40F draper headers, equipped with the HydraFlex system that allows the header to flex and closely follow the ground contours.
Although the HydraFlex system doesn’t offer the same level of contour adaptation as the hinged HDX model, our land is relatively even and not very hilly. Therefore, the additional cost of the HDX model didn’t seem justified.
The performance of the RD40F headers has been outstanding in both standing and laid crops. For standing crops, we operate with the table pressurized, which keeps it rigid and slightly elevated from the ground. This setup provides stability when operating at higher speeds.
When navigating flat sections, we can reduce the pressure, allowing the table to run on skids and flex to match the field’s contours. While this requires a slower forward speed, it aids in cleanly harvesting the crop from the ground.
In rough or uneven terrain, the header can become somewhat unstable in full flex mode. To address this, the addition of a wheel at each end might provide better support. Interestingly, the hinged draper models incorporate two wheels on each side to serve this purpose.
Harry: Surprisingly, despite their substantial size and high output, the X9 combines are remarkably user-friendly to operate, even when transitioning between different blocks of land.
Given that the average field size on our estate is around 10 hectares, and we often operate both machines simultaneously, moving them frequently is a common task.
Setting up the machines is also quite straightforward, largely due to the user-friendly touchscreen display. Navigating through the menus is intuitive and easy.
We simply need to choose the crop type and configure a few parameters such as grain quality and acceptable losses. After that, we can let the combine do its job without much intervention.
Using an array of cameras, the combine also monitors the quality of the sample and detects any cracked grains. It then makes necessary adjustments to the concaves, rotor speeds, fan speed, and sieves based on its analysis.
Remarkably, the system performs its task effectively, and we rarely find the need to intervene or override its decisions.
With the combine handling these intricate processes, my primary focus remains on harvesting the crop efficiently and ensuring a steady workflow to achieve optimal output.
In fields with standing crops, I can push the machine to utilize nearly the entire available engine power without compromising sample quality or allowing losses to reach unacceptable levels.
What’s the Cab Experience Like?
Harry The cab is remarkably comfortable and quiet, so even after a full day of operating, I feel as refreshed as I did when I started. It’s equipped with Apple CarPlay, a fridge, ample storage space, and a climate-controlled seat that even includes a massaging function.
The seat’s positioning is excellent, and coupled with the extended intake auger, I have a clear view of the header without needing to lean forward. There are thoughtful details such as an electric door latch that eliminates the need to slam it shut, and the lighting is so effective that it resembles sunlight.
While I understand that the combine comes with a substantial price tag, it’s evident that John Deere has invested significant thought into creating a well-designed cab experience.
What’s Your Daily Cutting Capacity?
Harry Due to the estate’s relatively small field sizes, our output is somewhat limited. However, each machine can comfortably harvest around 40 hectares a day, accounting for multiple moves, including header detachment.
In optimal wheat crops, we achieve an average of 75 to 85 metric tons per hour, which falls just below John Deere’s advertised 100 metric tons per hour. Without the need for frequent turning and maneuvering around obstacles, we would likely approach that figure.
Last year, we even managed to harvest 100 hectares of beans in a day across about 10 different fields.
Do You Use Machine Sync?
Harry Both of our X9s are equipped with Machine Sync, a technology that enables the combine to control the tractor and chaser bin.
Operating it is simple – the chaser driver drives into a virtual box, and once they confirm, the combine takes over. The tractor then mirrors the combine’s actions: matching speed changes, turns, and arcs.
A predetermined home position ensures the spout is directly over the chaser bin. Using arrows on the combine screen, I maneuver the tractor to maximize the grain transfer.
We rely on a single 29-ton Richard Western chaser bin for both combines. It transfers the grain to a fleet of waiting 15 and 16-ton trailers at the headland. This setup keeps us within legal road weight limits.
An added benefit is that only one tractor requires GPS dome and Machine Sync software, resulting in substantial cost savings. While the system greatly enhances unloading efficiency, occasional glitches persist – Farol is investigating the cause.
Have They Demonstrated Reliability?
Matthew Fortunately, we haven’t encountered any major breakdowns. However, there have been a few initial challenges. These include issues with bearings on the header drives, occasionally loose retractable fingers, bolts on the grain pans needing tightening, and a few minor electrical glitches.
What Areas Could Use Improvement?
Harry Criticizing the X9 is a challenge because it’s an incredibly well-crafted machine. Adding a camera at the top of the grain tank could be useful. Given the rapid filling, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge how far you can go once the light comes on.
While our combines are equipped with the 639hp engine, which is generally sufficient for most of the crops we harvest, especially considering our swath most of the straw, the 700hp X9 1100 might be a better choice if we were extensively chopping, as it could help maintain peak output.
Would You Consider Purchasing Another?
Matthew Judging solely by its performance, the X9 would undoubtedly be a top contender when we contemplate upgrading in the future.
However, the crucial factor will be the extent of its depreciation and the associated cost of changing equipment – regrettably, this remains uncertain.
In the past, Claas Lexions had an advantage in this regard. We were confident in their ability to retain value and fetch a good price as second-hand machines, making upgrades a more straightforward decision.