Fella, Agco’s grass equipment brand, has introduced a new centre-pivot mower designed to reduce headland turnaround times. Geoff Ashcroft puts one to the test.
The range of grass equipment from Fella currently comprises mowers, rakes and tedders, and the latest addition for this year now includes a centre-pivot, trailed mower conditioner.
It is a product which was to be launched at last month’s abandoned ScotGrass event, but in the absence of the working demonstration, the firm’s new mower conditioner joined the recent unveiling of Fendt’s Katana forage harvester in a show of strength from Agco’s green harvesting programme.
Badged SM3065KC, it is the smaller of two models which are built on a common platform – a larger 3.5m model is made, but not sold in the UK due to its wider transport width.
Towed via the tractor’s lower link arms, the mower’s swivelling headstock design offers tight headland turns. There is no requirement to specify different pto drives, says Fella, as the gearboxes only need inverting to change between 540rpm and 1,000rpm systems.
Fella has inserted heavy-duty steel wear plates into the drawbar’s guarding to protect the pto from tractor tyres when headland turns get too tight.
Drive from the pto is dropped on top of the cutterbar frame through a centrally mounted gearbox, before being pushed to the left-hand side of the bed where a transfer box lowers drive down to the cutterbar and provides drive to the conditioner.
Fella’s cutterbar design is one which does not use contra-rotating gears to drive the discs. Instead, it uses a hexagonal drive shaft running across the back of the cutterbar with bevel gears driving individual cutting discs.
It is a design which simplifies adjustment of cutting height, as the mower bed can pivot around the axis of the driveshaft. By turning a handle at the rear of the mower, the blades can be tilted forward to cut much closer to the ground.
On this 3m mower there are six discs, each carrying two blades per disc and each disc is equipped with DriveGuard – a slotted steel disc bolted between the disc and its hub to act as an overload protection device.
The slotted disc has predetermined shear points which will break if a cutting disc hits a foreign object, protecting key elements of the mower’s drivetrain. Fella says replacement is quick and easy and the design prevents disc loss.
Replacement DriveGuard discs cost about £7.50 and quick-change blades are available for the SM3065KC at extra cost.
Fella’s conditioner is one which uses a tine on tine arrangement, with spring tines on the rotor passing upward through a steel comb. By adjusting the comb angle through five preset positions, conditioning intensity can be varied. A shear bolt protects the conditioner rotor while tines on the rotor are retained through their coils to prevent loss into the swath.
While hydraulic cylinders handle raising and lowering of the mower chassis on its wheels, a pulley system with wire rope is used to connect the trailing axle to the mower bed. It is a lifting solution which tucks the bed tightly under its frame each time the mower is raised and affords 600mm (24in) of ground clearance to negotiate heavy swaths during headland turns.
The centre-pivot design is one which has struggled to capture the imagination of UK operators. It is a more complex design of mower and more costly to buy than traditional trailed outfits. And a stint at the controls reveals a different approach to driving style is needed too.
While looking over your right shoulder is second nature for any tractor driver, looking over your left shoulder is a less natural experience. This, along with a chunky drawbar on the SM3065KC which obscures the outer edges of the bed, makes driving on mirrors essential with this particular centre-pivot machine if you are to accurately line-up the mower bed with the edge of uncut grass.
Fortunately, the Fendt 716 providing the motive power has electrically adjustable wing mirrors, making it easy to set them, but not all tractor drivers are so fortunate. It is, however, good for your neck.
Working in a heavy crop of first cut grass made full use of the Fendt’s power at forward speeds of 10-11mph, suggesting those seeking good output will need much more than the minimum 95hp suggested by Fella.
Our field was not flat, nor was it steep neither, but I could feel the mower tugging at the back of the tractor as it scythed through the crop, suggesting the bed float could need a tweak.
A generous forward speed is essential too. Not just for output, but also for your sanity. In this heavy crop, a low forward speed of 5-5.5mph – chosen by my demonstrator driver simply for passenger comfort – saw the conditioner rotor struggle to lift and clear grass, resulting in a shear bolt failure.
So I set the Fendt’s cruise control function to 10.5mph.
With one double acting and one single acting spool required, the use of headland management functions made operating this machine very straightforward. One touch of the float button lowered the mower into work, while a press of the go button on the Fendt’s joystick saw the mower lift, with a timed interval before the drawbar position swung to the opposite side.
All this happens smoothly while you put the tractor on full lock and ready yourself for the next pass.
Headland turns can be where a lot of productivity is lost and there is no doubt working up and down from the same side of the field is much more productive than running across the headland.
Changing cutting height and conditioning intensity is easy to achieve on this model and it did not do too bad a job on tough, stalky stubbles. While it is not possible to achieve a full-width spread from the back of this mower, it will throw crop out in a 2m swath by adjusting the end boards and spreading vanes to their maximum positions.
Agco sees Fella as a key part of its green harvesting programme and is investing heavily in boosting production at Fella’s Feucht factory in Bavaria, Germany.
Last year, Fella exported 74 per cent of the 9,200 units it produces. Its current turnover is €78 million (£67m), though production is expected to double by 2018 as parent company Agco injects money into expansion of the factory.
Distribution of the Fella range in the UK remains with Reco.