October 15, 2006

Sosimo Ma. Pablico

Mini-combine harvests rice faster and easier

A small combine harvester developed by agricultural engineers of Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) now makes rice harvesting faster and easier as it performs four tasks simultaneously in one operation.

The new machine is a modification of a 1.2-meter wide combine harvester from China that was provided by Briggs and Stratton Corporation, the manufacturer of the gasoline engine used on the machine.

Dr. Eulito U. Bautista, who comes from Balungao, Pangasinan, said his team incorporated a number of improvements into the Chinese model. The improvements include simple cleaning mechanisms patterned after the axial flow thresher, a bagging conveyor that allows the use of paddy sacks, a riding component for a bagging assistant behind the operator, and a canopy for the operator.

Likewise, although some changes were done on the original design, the 16-horsepower gasoline engine of the original model was retained.

The improved mini-combine harvester performs cutting, threshing, cleaning, and bagging in one operation. Traditionally, the four tasks are being done separately and in succession.

As a result of these improvements, harvesting of rice has become faster, easier and, consequently, cheaper.

Moreover, farmers no longer need to worry about the scarcity of labor during the peak of the harvest season. They can now harvest at the right time and, hence, minimize the loss of grains due to shattering resulting from over ripe panicles.

In the past, farmers who could not harvest their crop on time due to the lack of labor have been incurring losses from shattered grains of over ripe panicles, especially with shattering varieties. Consequently, their income also decreased.

The new mini-combine harvester only needs an operator and a bagger for its operation and, hence, the cost of harvesting is greatly minimized. Like the operator, the bagger also rides on the harvester, making his task easier and lighter.

Moreover, the machine uses only six liters of gasoline to harvest a hectare. Even at its current cost, six liters of imported fossil fuel would cost cheaper than the cost of manual harvesting.

The PhilRice model has since been tried both in Central Luzon and the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam where the rice fields are softer and more wet than in the former.

Two years ago, this writer predicted the coming of the mini-combine rice harvester and now two commercial models have been launched in the Philippines and Vietnam. The machine has been selling at P= 220,000 to P= 250,000 each.

While it is true that the mini-combine harvester replaces considerable amount of manual labor, it would prove more beneficial to farmers in the long run. Because not every farmer can afford to buy a unit, farmers’ cooperatives may opt to have one or two units for custom hiring and, hence, generate income.

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