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Has Fendt forager buying gamble paid off?

Is Fendt’s Katana 65 good enough to rattle the old guard? After a successful first season, Gloucestershire contractors James Biddlecombe and Brian Morris believe so. Geoff Ashcroft reports.

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Fendt's Katana 65 packs 650hp from a Mercedes V8 engine.

A long-standing relationship with Mill Engineers and Claas foragers ended in 2015 for Gloucestershire contractors James Biddlecombe and Brian Morris, when the duo took delivery of a Fendt Katana 65 for their general contracting business.


So was it madness to leave the safety and security of a comfortable pair of old boots in favour of what some might view as a fancy pair of shoes? “Far from it,” says James Biddlecombe, who spends his silage season at the helm of the forager.


Reflecting on the Katana’s first full season of grass, whole crop and maize, he believes the arrival of the Bavarian firm’s forager was a well-considered and thoroughly thought out decision.

Gloucestershire contractors James Biddlecombe and Brian Morris are pleased with the performance and efficiency of their Fendt forager.

“We’ve brought more efficiency to the business, with greater output and lower fuel consumption, while improving forage quality for our customers,” he adds.


The forager buying process started during the 2014 maize harvest, when the pair put contenders from Krone, New Holland, Fendt and Claas through their paces while seeking a suitable replacement for their 2009 Claas Jaguar 950.


A workload comprising 1,011ha (2,500 acres) of grass, 800ha (1,980 acres) of maize and a fluctuating area of whole crop meant more power would be useful, but it was not essential.


“It soon became a short-list of two - the obvious one was another 950 which offered security that we knew, along with simply brilliant back-up from Mill,” he says. “And the other was to leap into the unknown and trust Fendt dealer Ross Farm Machinery to look after us.”


“The Katana wasn’t being undersold, but Claas remains extremely proud of its Jaguar range and its position in the market,” he says. “And changing brands also meant having to swap a 10-row Orbis header for a 10-row Kemper maize header too, which added to the cost.”


“But a five-year warranty and at the time, a five years 0 per cent interest deal, meant we would have been foolish not to buy the Katana.”

Cab offers a panoramic vantage point from its spacious, uncluttered interior.

“There isn’t a list of options - the Katana is pretty much a fixed-specification forager that wants for nothing,” he says. “You just choose the wheels and tyres, plus the headers you want. We opted for 850s, to give a secure footprint.”


Four-wheel drive and rear axle suspension is standard, which he says is superb, as is Fendt’s V-cracker disc rollers for maize.


The V-cracker’s 265mm diameter rollers are said to deliver a much larger surface compared to other systems, leading to improved crop flow and grain cracking. “The cracker and grass chute swivels in and out of position hydraulically at the touch of a button,” says James. “It’s easy to swap between late season grass and maize.”


“We’ve gained a little more power over the old 950, but the Katana’s V8 engine, with AdBlue, is so much more efficient with fuel - we’re doing more work on much less fuel,” he says. “And it runs a lot cooler than the 950 did.”


He says that performance in maize is 8 ha/day (19.8 acres/day) higher, with the Fendt comfortably seeing off 40ha/day (99 acres/day).


“Not all our output is from having a bit more power,” he says. “Crop flows through the Katana very well, and its six feed rollers present a consistent wedge of crop to the chopping cylinder,” he says.

Katana’s joystick moves and operates in the same format as the Fendt tractor joystick.

“And with hydraulic drives for the feed rollers and pickup, I can tweak crop flow to get the best from the forager, or make the most of the auto speed adjust function,” he says.


Grass output, at 60ha/day (148 acres/day), is marginally better than his previous forager, but in all crops, he adds that chopping accuracy from the Katana has never been so good.


“It’s almost too good, and we’ll probably consider removing some of the knives this season to give customers a more varied chop length,” he adds.


When it comes to chop length, customer preference is for 22mm in grass and 14-16mm in maize. Blade life for the Katana’s 28-knife V-configuration drum is a full season in grass and maize blades will see off two seasons.


“I do like to keep them sharp, and its very easy to do with one-touch sharpening from the cab,” he says. “The Katana does need a little more effort to properly set up, but once you’ve got it tuned, it is an animal.”


“And our best maize day saw 2,800 tonnes of crop harvested,” he adds.


But the road to higher efficiency isn’t paved entirely with gold and the first season hasn’t been entirely fault-free.

Rear axle suspension boosts ride comfort and is fitted as standard.

“The grass pickup is a restriction considering the forager’s overall capability,” he says. “It lacks crop flow for this level of horsepower and it would be good to see Fendt develop its own header to match the Katana’s capacity. The tines have not been up to the job - and I can speak from experience that the metal detector works very well.”


He adds that the dealer and Fendt have been more than up to the task of resolving problems, and thicker, stronger tines have been fitted to the pickup for the 2016 season.


With almost 600 hours under its belt and its first season completed, Mr Biddlecombe is pleased with forager performance.


“While the cab is no quieter, the visibility is better than the Jaguar,” says James. “Electrically heated and adjustable mirrors, windscreen wipers on all four sides of the cab and a combination of LED and Xenon lights help when harvesting late into the night.”


“Maintenance is easier and with auto lube, there are very few grease nipples that need attention,” he adds. “And the cab steps can be unbolted and swung out of the way, which makes it easier to thoroughly clean the forager at the end of the season. Overall, the entire forager is a much neater and better laid out than the Jag.”


“So far, I’m pleased with what the Katana has brought to the business,” says Mr Biddlecombe.

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