What Do You Need To Drive A Combine Harvester?

If you want to land a rewarding career in agriculture that will help you pay the bills – or perhaps just support your own small farm – you might be wondering, “what do you need to drive a combine harvester?” The answer varies a bit depending on the country and state you live in, but for the most part, the requirements are quite straightforward. 

What is a Combine Driver?

What is a Combine Driver

A combine driver is someone who operates a combine harvester. You don’t need to have a fancy college education in order to land one of these jobs – while many operators do have bachelor’s degrees (about a third, in fact), most just have high school diplomas or GEDs. 

Although technology has made it easier than ever before for even inexperienced farmers to operate combine harvesters, not everyone has the skills to do so safely and effectively. 

Therefore, it is important that you be sufficiently trained before you start driving.

How Do You Learn to Drive a Combine?

Experience is everything when it comes to learning how to drive a combine. You don’t need a college degree to do this, but you do need some time behind the wheel. Many combine harvester drivers have a background as truck drivers or over the road drivers. Others might just have experience working on a farm and with similar type of machinery.

Operating a combine safely requires a high level of training. There are many providers of training courses, which vary in duration and requirements depending on where you live. These tend to be short and intensive, generally lasting just a few days or so.

Here’s a funny video that will teach you some of the basics of combine driving:

You can always get a lesson from someone you know and trust who has experience with combines, too. Rather than just reading about how to drive a combine online, make sure you get plenty of hands-on experience with a skilled operator supervising you so that you know you’re getting the skills down pat. 

Driving a Combine: Step by Step

Here’s a walkthrough of how to drive a combine. Before you get started, always check the operator’s manual so you know where the pedals, levers, and other regulators are located. 

This is a good rule of thumb even if you’re experienced because these can vary among manufacturers

  1. First, make sure it’s prepared for the field. Check belts, grease bearings, and oil chains. Make sure the battery, engine, and other components are in good working order and add fuel if necessary (but only if the engine is cool). 
  2. Make sure all safety shields are secure and that all other safety guidelines have been met (including putting a fire extinguisher on board).
  3. Get the combine to its final destination for harvest and unload it from the trailer, if that’s how it got there (this won’t apply if you drove it directly to the field). Put the header in place. 
  4. Before harvesting a field, it’s a good idea to give it a quick survey to make sure there aren’t any hidden ditches, obstacles, or other hazards. This will also give you a good idea of how the crop grows in relation to the natural contours of the earth. 
  5. You may need to adjust the header or cutter position depending on how wet or dry the field is. Make sure the header control on your combine is operating correctly as you move. As you work, watch for debris that might clog the header and be sure that the grain is flowing as it should into the hopper.
  6. Once the hopper is full, dump the grain into a truck or trailer. 
  7. When you’re done for the day, make note of any issues and necessary repairs. 

How Do You Set Up a Combine Harvester?

How Do You Set Up a Combine Harvester?

To drive a combine harvester, there are a few things (besides the right training) that you need to be successful.


In most places, combine harvesters need to be conditionally registered for use on public roads and road-related areas. 

The registration class will vary depending on where you live but most companies fall under an agricultural class

These machines are those that can be used for planting, cultivating, and harvesting vegetables and food products, raising and caring for livestock, transporting supplies, or in conjunction with lumbering activities. Most of the time, the registration will allow you to take your combine into the field as well as on public roads. 

Depending on where you live, an inspection probably won’t be necessary. However, most laws dictate that farm equipment like combines must have working signaling devices, lamps, and reflectors in good condition. 

Extra Permits and Insurance

Some countries and states require that machines like combine harvesters that are meant only for agricultural and worksite use be equipped with oversize permits. Sometimes, warning devices and signs are required for hydraulic steering mechanisms. 

Insurance is something else you will need in order to operate your combine. Check with your insurance agent for more specific information on this, since requirements vary depending on the locality. 


Most states require combine operators to have CDL (commercial drivers’ licenses) endorsements. Depending on the state, you’ll need to be at least 18 years of age in order to qualify. 

Some states don’t require you to have a CDL at all, instead saying that if you are driving the vehicle within the state you farm, a regular license is fine. Some states don’t require a driver’s license at all, especially if you aren’t leaving the farm and if you have an orange warning triangle with flashers on. 

Can I Drive a Combine Harvester?

After reading this post, you might be wondering if you have what it takes to drive a combine harvester. The short answer? Maybe!

It takes some time to learn the ropes, but if you have the drive and motivation to learn, then it’s something that could prove to be a lucrative endeavor for you.

Consider signing up for a course or taking lessons (as informal as they might be!) with another combine driver you know. It’s a great skill to add to your toolbox as a farmer!

1 thought on “What Do You Need To Drive A Combine Harvester?”

  1. I found your article very informative, but could you provide me with names of specific training courses anywhere in North Dakota or Kansas? Thank you for any help you can give.


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