One Dutch contractor has developed a novel solution to allow an SPFH to boldly go where no other forager can work. Steven Vale reports.
The struggle to complete this season’s forage maize harvest did not just affect British farmers and contractors. The elements also caused problems across much of north-west Europe, including the Netherlands, where some water-logged land was unable to support the weight of harvesting machinery.
Dutch contractor G.M. Damsteegt came to the rescue of some farms with a light-footed approach that sees a Claas Jaguar 840’s four wheels swapped for a pair of full-length rubber tracks.
The contractor’s 56-strong fleet of IHI IC tracked dumpers owned by the company (see panel) is considered the largest in the country. Used mainly for earthmoving projects on land incapable of supporting the weight of wheeled vehicles, every autumn as many as 20-25 dumpers are rented by Dutch farm contractors to accompany self propelled forage harvesters (SPFH) on land that is simply too heavy-going for traditional tractors and trailers.
“Trailers are generally the weak link,” says director Martien Damsteegt, who reckons a SPFH can keep going in sometimes quite atrocious conditions. “However, even foragers can struggle at times leaving deep ruts in their wake.”
He pondered a few ideas and concluded it must be possible to fit a pair of full-length tracks to a forager.
Operator Wout Sterk reckons the joystick steering (left-hand) takes a bit of getting used to.
Early 2014, he found a 15 year-old Claas Jaguar 840 (c/w six-row maize header) which had done just 3,500 hours. Powered by a 381hp Mercedes Benz engine, this modern-day classic provided the affordable solution he was seeking to test the market with his ideas.
The modification works saw the 840’s four wheels and two axles swapped with parts of the chassis, track running gear and hydraulic motors from one of the contractor’s oldest IC 100s. In need of a new engine, it was decided to sacrifice this machine, and retain the rest of the carcass for spares.
Two new and wider 800mm tracks were bought (750mm on standard IC 100), and a separate hydraulic system was installed to power the two pumps – one for each track unit. The forager’s steering wheel was no longer needed. Operated via a separate hydraulic motor, each track is steered via an electronically-operated joystick.
The Jaguar’s instrument gauge was re-located to the cab A-post, and the full-length tracks required the removal of the bottom half of the cab access steps. This left plenty of space to include two storage containers at the top of the front wheel arches, and 300kg of wafer weights were added to the rear of the Jaguar.
Dutch contractor G.M. Damsteegt’s unusual maize silage fleet can keep going when all other machines grind to a halt.
Weighing about 14-15 tonnes, during its first test season the unusual Jaguar chopped about 50ha (124 acres). Now in its second season, we caught up with it, and two of the tracked dumpers recently, at an 8ha (19.8 acres) field near Rotterdam. One of the last crops of maize still standing, some parts were so boggy it was difficult to walk on without sinking to the knees. It really was quite amazing to see the forager leaving barely a mark on most of the field.
It sank through the surface and struggled a bit in the softest patches, but kept going without getting stuck. “I have experienced a few scary moments during the past two seasons, but so far have not needed any assistance,” says 840 driver Wout Sterk.
The 840 is the same to operate as the standard machine, but with one exception – the joystick steering. “This takes a bit of getting used to and it is easy to over-steer,” says Wout.
Capable of covering 1-1.2ha/hr, the forager fills one of two IHI IC 100’s. Fitting 50cm-high side extensions to the standard tipping bodies of the two tracked dumpers increases the capacity to 20-22cu.m. For one of the two machines the contractor has even added additional front extensions, which increases the capacity by another 3-4cu.m.
An excavator loads the maize silage into containers for road transport.
The tracked dumpers empty their cargo into a specially-designed hopper. Resting on steel plates at the field entrance, the tracked dumpers, which are able to tackle gradients of 30 degrees, had no trouble reversing up the incredibly-steep ramps. The maize silage is then loaded into containers by a wheeled excavator. With three road transport vehicles, each shifting two containers at a time, the maize silage was trucked 30km to a dairy farm.
At the end of the maize season the tracked dumpers simply re-join the rental fleet, and the hopper can be used to hold sand at earthworks projects. However, Mr Damsteegt is considering purchasing a couple of dedicated high-tipping tracked dumpers for maize silage work to empty directly into standard farm trailers at the headland to eliminate the need for an excavator and the hopper.
“This will reduce the number of staff to three – one for the forager and two for the tracked dumpers.” However, the company plans to continue to offer the current excavator and hopper where maize silage needs transporting over long distances. “An excavator is able to compact the contents in a container to allow more silage to be carried on the road.”
The tracked dumpers reverse behind the forager when opening up a field.
Any future investment plans hinge to some extent on the workload. Mr Damsteegt is the first to admit that the 50ha (124 acres) harvested during each of the past two seasons is not high enough, but sees it as an venture similar to that when he brought in the very first IHI IC30 tracked dumper in the country many years ago. “It took us a while but we eventually succeeded in creating a market for these machines and today we have 56 tracked dumpers. There is no reason we cannot succeed with our maize silage team.”
The company is prepared to travel anywhere in the Netherlands, and while transport costs will probably kill a debut this side of the North Sea, the Dutch contractor does not rule out such a move if the area is large enough.
As to costs, these depend on the situation and field size, but as a very rough guide, in the Netherlands the system costs roughly 20 per cent more than when using a standard forager and farm trailers.
Founded in the early 1990s as an excavator rental company, today G. M. Damsteegt provides jobs for 100.
The company’s background is specialist kit to tackle the most challenging earthmoving jobs. This includes floating excavators for dredging work, and the 140 plus machine fleet contains 56 IHI IC tracked dumpers.