The choice of high horsepower tractors has never been greater, but one Merseyside grower has stuck with a familiar brand to meet his needs.
Adding more horsepower to his operations has enabled arable and potato grower Peter Wilkinson to cut labour and diesel costs, while also making time savings.
Farming 625 hectares near Formby, Merseyside, cropping includes cereals, potatoes, oilseed rape and beans, alongside sheep and beef enterprises.
A sister business produces small pack hay for the pet trade.
In recent years, Mr Wilkinson has been looking to reduce cultivations, including for potatoes. Traditionally potato ground, which includes ‘moss’ – fine, peaty soils – was destoned, but in the poor weather conditions of 2012, 92 per cent of the crop was lost, so the focus changed to cutting establishment time and costs.
He explains: “On the better land, we aim to subsoil and then plant in one pass. So by investing in larger tractors, we can put more implements on one machine and use less fuel and man hours.”
Initially a 250hp Deutz-Fahr 7250 TTV was used, with a two-bed tiller on the front, with another two-bed tiller and four-row planter with chemical applicator behind.
However, despite its 10-tonne lift capacity, Mr Wilkinson says this tractor struggled with the load.
“We started to investigate bigger tractors, and I looked at quite a few other brands including Case IH and New Holland, but I came back to Deutz-Fahr because of the heavier and stronger build, which is important on potato land as it is so hard on machinery,” he says.
“It is not a cheap tractor, but cheaper is not always better.”
A demonstration of the Deutz-Fahr 9340 Warrior special edition impressed, and the initial plan was to purchase the demonstrator, but when this was snapped up by someone else Mr Wilkinson opted for a pair of 9310 TTVs to spread the workload and increase flexibility.
Delivered in time for the 2019 planting season, the 312hp (maximum power rating) Deutz-powered tractors crucially have a 12-tonne lift capacity to the rear and 6t on the front linkage to handle the cultivations and planting outfit.
Mr Wilkinson also highlights the ‘solid’ back axle which pulls a Grimme SE-170, two row 7.5t bunker harvester better than the smaller tractor previously used.
Having two of the same model avoids bottlenecks between the potato and arable work, he says.
“We do not do a lot of tillage as we strip-till drill with a 4m Mzuri, although a 5m cultivator is used after potatoes,” he says.
“But when we are planting potatoes we also need to be subsoiling, and when we are digging potatoes we also need to be drilling.
“To achieve this with one 9310 TTV would mean working it very hard. Having the pair brings the cost per acre down.”
The 9310’s auto steer and GPS guidance has made drilling more accurate, Mr Wilkinson adds.
He says: “We used to sow up and down; now we can put the tramlines in and then fill the gaps, and the GPS ensures the rows always match up.”
Guidance has also come in handy for ‘smaller’ jobs – speeding up mowing operations and cutting fuel costs with a 3m front and rear combinations for haymaking.
There is plenty of traction even on the stiffer land, and he adds that compared to his original approach of putting 2.5 tonnes of weights on the front of the 7250, having a bed tiller on the front of the tractor makes for a more balanced outfit.
Mr Wilkinson says at first sight the control layout, with the firm’s large MaxCom joystick, armrest pto controls and cross control lever for the hydraulics, looks complex, but adds he quickly got used to it.
“You can easily set the spools up to work with the implement lift and forward speed,” he says.
“For example, the valves for planting can be controlled at the press of one button: lowering the bed tiller, engaging the pto, and then it is timed to lower the rear tiller and engage its pto, after which the tractor revs are increased and the planter engaged.
“I find the armrest controls comfortable to use, and with six electronic spools, there are plenty of options for different combinations of implements.”
The 7250 TTV was the farm’s first continuously variable transmission tractor, followed by a 6180 TTV, and Mr Wilkinson adds that one benefit of such transmissions is they cannot be abused in the way that mechanical systems can.
“You set the forward speed and have to wait for the transmission to reach it, so there is less wear and tear,” he says.
“It is steadier from a standing start, but progresses more quickly through the speed range, which is a benefit for transport.
“The greatest asset is the way the transmission and engine work together to save fuel. For example, when you put the subsoiler in the ground it shuts the revs down and then speeds them up again once it is off and running.”
He admits that at 11,900kg unladen, the weight of the 9310 TTV was a concern, but he found its 5.26m length means it spreads the load over a large amount of ground, while 900 tyres also help.
“The test has been digging potatoes on the moss ground in this difficult autumn, where the tractor and harvester have just kept going,” he says.
Bigger tractor bonnets always mean a compromise in forward visibility, and the Deutz-Fahr is no exception, but the bonnet narrows towards the front axle to give a better view for hitching up, he says.
“The cabs get criticised for being small compared to some brands, but I like the high driving position, especially when sun could obscure your vision,” he says.
An electronically operated bonnet scores points for practicality and safety, and service access is generally praised.
“The 600-litre fuel tank took a bit of getting used to – we thought we were never going to fill it the first time,” he says.
“But it means that we only have to refill every couple of days, which is a big improvement.”
A two-year warranty fixes the running costs, and Mr Wilkinson says he enjoys a good relationship with Deutz-Fahr in the UK.
“The firm will always try to help with any issues, and if it does not have the answer, it will quickly find someone who does,” he says.
Smaller tractors in the fleet are swapped every 3,000 hours to maximise resale values, but he reckons he will keep the 9310s for more like 10,000 hours.
“I am not really looking for second-hand value, more what they can do in their lifetime. Other than for the potato bulker, which needs the 9310’s air brakes, we try not to use them for running around, dedicating them to key jobs so they would only put in 800 hours a year.”
As the land varies, Mr Wilkinson says it is hard to generalise about the savings, but cites an example.
“On clay/silt land, the 250hp tractor took five-and-a-half hours to subsoil 12.5ha,” he says.
“In the adjacent 12.5ha, we used the 9310 and it took three hours 10 minutes, using 22 litres less diesel.”
“Overall, I reckon they are doing the same work as the previous tractors in half the hours annually.”