By Marlee Moore
In 2019, Auburn University (AU) staff spent about 2,400 hours harvesting and processing research plots in Shorter, Alabama.
They slashed that number to less than 60 in 2020, thanks to investments from the Alabama Soybean Checkoff and Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Checkoff.
The checkoffs, funded and managed by farmers, will respectively contribute $177,022 and $243,200 over five years to rent a new R1 Almaco rotary combine for AU’s E.V. Smith Research Center. Compared to older equipment, this plot combine harvests faster and at higher moisture, uses less labor and maintains greater seed purity, said AU’s Dr. Jenny Koebernick.
“This combine saved us months of work,” said Koebernick, a soybean breeder and assistant professor in AU’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences. “My role is to add value to soybeans, which will trickle down to farmers. With this combine, I can evaluate large numbers of genetic material, which could not have been done with the older equipment. I greatly appreciate the generosity of the College of Agriculture and the Soybean and Wheat and Feed checkoffs.”
A plot combine is a scaled-down version of machinery most farmers use. Its small size is ideal for research plots, a fraction of the size of most fields.
The two-row rotary combine has a helical rotating drum instead of the standard threshing drums with rasp bars. Fewer moving parts means fewer breakdowns, Koebernick said.
Its onboard packaging unit bags samples, eliminating need for a second worker in the combine. The special-ordered sample bags have barcodes, reducing post-harvest handling. The seed doesn’t require hand-cleaning, either.
The bright blue combine boasts large magnetic signs with Alabama Soybean Checkoff and Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Checkoff logos.
In agreements with the College of Agriculture, both checkoffs pay “rent” on the combine and standard head. The college has invested $192,000 — a third of the combine cost.
The Soybean Checkoff rents soybean sieves and concaves. Similarly, the Wheat & Feed Grain Checkoff rents the corn head, plus small grain and corn sieves and concaves.
“Investing in projects and research pays off,” said Lauderdale County farmer Colt Clemmons, who chairs the Alabama Soybean Committee. “This combine is critical to ensuring researchers make good use of their time and talents, which helps us as farmers. The Soybean Committee is conscientious of the decisions we make and how these investments benefit growers.”
Stanley Walters, a Perry County farmer who leads the Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Committee, said effective trials ensure farmers make worthwhile management decisions.
“I’m always delighted when we can provide long-term assets that are a viable return on checkoff dollars to Alabama farmers,” Walters said. “If we didn’t have adequate machinery, our research would be at risk. If you can’t harvest in a timely manner, you lose valuable data.”
More than 20 researchers’ projects utilize the new R1 combine for nearly 10,000 research plots. As AU hires more faculty members, the plots — and research benefiting farmers — will grow.
One of 13 outlying units, E.V. Smith conducts trials on corn, cotton, soybeans, peanuts, carinata, sorghum, oats, barley and wheat. E.V. Smith’s older SPC40 combine was moved to the Brewton Agricultural Research Unit.