ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Do you have any information on combines for a small-scale grain operation?

Posted November 10, 2005

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:

Dear Jeff,

I am looking for information on combines for a small-scale grain operation. I am a young farmer taking over our family orchard. I am also becoming interested in growing various grains to mill ourselves and direct market. I know there are combine models that are becoming available for people like me and for use on research farms, but I haven't had much luck tracking down where I could get one, costs, and other specifics. I don't know about all the options (self-propelled, tractor pulled, or a moveable treshing machine) for my situation. I would be looking to grow maybe 20-30 acres. Any advice or direction in where to continue my search, particularly in where they are available, would be greatly appreciated.

Rob Moutoux

Dear Rob,

You ask a very good question; one that many small- scale farmers ask over and over. Thirty acres is far too much to harvest by hand but not nearly enough to justify purchasing an expensive combine. The problem is made more difficult by the fact that equipment manufactures just don't build small combines anymore, since the market is small (and just because the combine is smaller, it still costs a lot to build).

This generally leaves you with two options:

One, you can contract the harvesting out to a neighbor who has a combine and is willing to get your work done with his/her machine. There are drawbacks to this scenario. Timing is often critical during the harvest period, and whoever owns the equipment may want to get all of their own work done first, leaving you to wait. Also, if you are working with certified organic crop, as I do, the equipment owner may not be willing to go through a thorough cleaning procedure necessary for you to get a segregated product.

The other option is for you to purchase an older machine that is scale appropriate and in good condition. Keep in mind when looking at used equipment that a combine has many moving parts that operate at close tolerances. Worn parts can easily cost you more than the value of the machine. Therefore, find a combine that has been stored inside a building, has not been abused, and is in generally fine condition.

The good news is that many of these machines exist, and since they were expensive to begin with they were stored properly. The other good news is that these pieces can usually be purchased quite inexpensively. The reason for this is that most farmers who really need a combine need one that is larger and newer and can justify the large price tag. They don't want to fool around with older machines. This leaves the door open to you. The threshing action of a combine hasn't really changed much over the years, so even an older machine should work just fine. You may not get the easy adjustments or all the "bells and whistles" of a new machine, but you won't be living in it for months at time either so you can forego the CD player.

Any brand is fine, pull-type or self propelled—whatever you can find and afford in really good condition. As far as research equipment goes, you could check out the closest experimental farm to see if they have an older machine on site that they want to get rid of. New research-sized equipment is available but is quite expensive. You could check out Kincaid Equipment ( in Kansas. They use Massey 8XP combines as a platform on which they build a research machine. They often have used equipment as well. There is also a company called HEGE Equipment, also in Kansas, that builds small-scale research combines.

Good Luck, and let us know how you make out.

Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at