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Farm focus: Flexibility key to contractor's tractor buying decisions

For Essex contractors Gardners, having four- and six-cylinder tractors in the fleet gives a reassuring level of flexibility and back-up, plus the added bonus of common parts from the same make.

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With a varied workload ranging from feeding stock to cultivations, flexibility and versatility are key factors when it comes to choosing tractors for Essex contractor Gardners’ fleet.


They have been using Valtra tractors since 1987. When the Finnish manufacturer (now part of Agco) introduced its Mezzo range in 1997, it became the only make used by the family firm, which also farms 275 hectares (680 acres) near Pitsea, Essex.


Partner Alex Sell says: “We have 120 suckler cows, 40 of which are pedigree South Devons, and half of our land is down to grass.

“Contracting makes up about one-third of the workload, including 14,000 square bales a year, 275ha of combining and 200ha of muck spreading, so we need versatile, reliable tractors.”


The fleet currently comprises a Valmet 6650, purchased in 2001, a 2011-plate, 135hp four-cylinder N123, a 2013 170hp six-cylinder T163e Versu and a new 99hp N93, used exclusively as a loader tractor.


Mr Sell’s father and uncle work part-time alongside him, as does wife Gemma, and student help is recruited from nearby Writtle College for harvest.

Varied work

Varied work

Mr Sell says: “The tractors work hard and we aim to change them at 5,000 hours.


“The N123 has already clocked that up and is a real workhorse. In winter we can have 300 head of cattle housed, and it is used for all feeding and bedding.


“We then take the loader off and it does all mowing, raking and spraying, before going on to pull a Lemken Euro Opal 7 plough.”


The N123, which features the Versu transmission, giving five powershift gears and 30 speeds in both directions, also does duty on the clamp and was fitted with a front linkage for this and for a possible move to a front and rear mower combination.


Buckraking is now mainly carried out using the front loader and a larger rear mower has been purchased.


“Its strength is its versatility and simplicity of operation,” says Mr Sell. “I can put a student on this tractor with no worries. But it can also stand in for the bigger tractor on the baler, if necessary. However, while it can manage the baler, it has to work hard.”


Valtra’s four-cylinder N163 was also considered for higher horsepower work, but Mr Sell eventually opted for the greater bulk of a six-cylinder tractor, which handles baling and drilling duties more comfortably.


“The T163 pulls a Mengele trailed forager and then spends most of the summer on a Vicon 8200 square baler, before going onto a Lemken Solitair 9 drill,” he says. “It then has a very quiet


winter. It is this combination of a four- and six-cylinder tractor which gives our fleet its flexibility.”


The T163, which also has the Versu transmission specification, features an ‘eco’ mode, which produces its nominal engine speed at 1,800 rpm and maximum output at 1,700 rpm.


The manufacturer claims additional fuel savings of up to 10 per cent over and above that of the new selective catalytic reduction (SCR) engine on both road and pto applications.


Mr Sell says: “We have seen a huge reduction in fuel consumption using SCR - we can now go two-and-a-half to three days on a tank of diesel when baling, whereas we used three-quarters of a tank per day before.


“It has actually made me wish we had waited for the new engine before buying the N123.”


Like many purchasers, he was initially sceptical about AdBlue, and admits Mrs Sell had to do a couple of emergency missions out to the field when he had forgotten to top it up, but says it is easy and economical to use, and is justified by the fuel savings.


“In fact, it means the six-cylinder tractor uses little more fuel than the smaller Valtra, which has to work hard on tasks such as ploughing, although it is very economical for loader work.”

On the road

On the road

Road performance is impressive on both tractors, he says, with all-round suspension providing for a smooth ride. The T163 in particular pulls away from junctions well, even when towing the square baler. This is essential when a lot of time is spent on dual carriageways and the urban fringe.


“I would be in favour of MOTs for tractors and upgrades to trailers to legalise higher road speeds,” he says. “There is more and more traffic on the roads, and even 50kph is too slow at busy times.”


Mr Sell says servicing costs and schedules for the two main tractors are similar, with the T163 just needing one extra filter and slightly more oil.


“It is handy having all the same brand as parts are the same across the three newer models.


We also only need one barrel each of engine and transmission oil.”


Much as he praises the performance of the tractors, Mr Sell has some reservations about current build quality. “It feels like Agco is skimping a little bit on overall quality these days.


“The 6650 has 9,000 hours on it and apart from tyres, 500-hour services and the replacement of one spring on the clutch, it has never had any money spent on it.”


He has, however, had to use the five-year warranty on the newer tractors. “A spring clip on the clutch went on the T163 early on and it was off-farm for a fortnight. We have a good relationship with our dealer and they lent us a tractor to cover it.”


Mr Sell has no intention to move away from Valtra just yet. “We always look at what else is on the market every time we replace a tractor, and some of the other brands are competitive on specification and price.


“In fact we almost tried another brand when we purchased the N93, but the difference in price was just not quite enough to tempt us away from what we know.”


Primary tractors side by side


N123 Versu

T163 Versu


four-cylinder, 135hp

six-cylinder, 170hp


30 by 30 powershift

30 by 30 powershift




Lift capacity



Fuel tank capacity

230 litres

275 litres

Weight 5,450kg 6,420kg
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