Househam’s Harrier is the firm’s successor to the Merlin, boasting a raft of improvements. Geoff Ashcroft catches up with a user to find out if it has lived up to expectations.
From Bank Farm, Kington in Herefordshire, David Bedford runs a contract crop spraying business that covers a spraying workload of about 12-14,000 hectares per year.
Over the last 24 years, it is fair to say that his business, DJ Bedford Crop Spraying, has seen its fair share of self-propelled sprayers. Most have been Househam models, chosen for their perceived value, simplicity and stability, leading to the firm’s latest purchase, a Househam Harrier.
Mr Bedford says; “This new Harrier is not a large, clumsy unit. It is still a relatively compact sprayer, like its predecessor.
“Importantly, the tank is low in the chassis, and this means good stability.”
Operating in the rolling Herefordshire countryside, within a 15 mile radius of his base, Mr Bedford is now on his sixth Househam. Previous models included a Super Sprint and AR3000, before investing in a Merlin.
And it was this latter machine that made the way for the new Harrier, equipped with 4,000 litre tank and 24-metre boom.
“Generally speaking, the Househam sprayers have proved a good value workhorse,” he says.
“I ran the Merlin for about five years, and in that time it clocked-up around 9,000 hours, and probably sprayed around 150,000 acres. Prior to that, I had an AR3000, which is still at Bank Farm as a back-up machine.”
He says the majority of application work is with pesticides, with very little requirement among customers for liquid fertiliser. Crops include cereals, oilseed rape, grass and maize, and the latter is where he says the Househam’s hydraulic wheel track adjustment comes in handy.
“I can slot into maize rows quite easily,” he says.
“And while most tramlines are on 72-inch centres, I will push track widths out to 84in on the really steep ground, just to stay safe.”
He says that very little work is carried out from the security of a flat field, and with an average field size of just 6ha, logistics do have an impact on output.
“It is why I opted for an extra 1,000-litres of tank capacity on the Harrier,” he says.
“I do not always fill it, and there are some fields where I have to plan my payload and field coverage to leave the steeper parts until last, when the tank level is low.”
He sprays at 11 to 12kph, which gives Mr Bedford time to watch what is going on with the boom.
“There is little to gain by going faster or wider, which is why I opted for a slightly larger tank. At 100-litres/ha on cereals, I can now cover 40ha between fills, instead of 30.”
Compared to the Merlin, he says the Harrier is a big step forward.
“There is no comparison,” he says.
“The cab is much more comfortable, the ride is better – though it is at the expense of stability. I am going to try and put a bit more pressure in the suspension system, to stiffen the sprayer.”
The Harrier, it will be recalled, was launched to replace the Merlin. As such, it is offered with 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000-litre tanks, accompanied with a range of twin-fold and tri-fold steel booms extending from 24 to 36m.
Its arrival came as no surprise, given the love-hate relationship many operators had with their Merlins. And five years after its original 2012 launch, the Merlin MkII arrived in a bid to resolve minor issues and take onboard operator feedback. But that still was not enough, and so the British maker wiped the slate clean to develop the Harrier.
Harrier follows a familiar format – a mast-mounted boom, with the engine behind the cab. Two power version are offered; a four-pot MTU packing 230hp, or six-pot MTU from 240hp.
A 300-litre fuel tank is filled from the nearside front of the sprayer and is said to be more than enough to accommodate a long day’s spraying, as Mr Bedford confirms.
“A long day in the Merlin would bring on the low fuel warning light – not so with the Harrier,” he says.
“But power delivery is considerably different; the old Cat engine might have been a smoky, dirty old thing, but it would just pull and pull.
“This one is much less torquey and needs more rpm, and is probably a trade-off for choosing a similarly powered four-cylinder. I probably should have gone for the six-cylinder, but there has not been a bank that I cannot get up with the Harrier.”
Emissions compliance is met using exhaust after-treatment fluid, with its tank accessed immediately behind the cab.
“The AdBlue tank needs a sight gauge,” he says.
“It is too easy to over-fill and cause a spillage.”
A monocoque chassis underpins the new sprayer and is common to all three of the Harrier’s tank sizes, with the exception of wheelbase. The 4,000-litre runs on a 3.6m wheelbase, while the larger 5,000 and 6,000-litre models are stretched to 4m. The Harrier also offers an extra 100mm of ground clearance over its predecessor.
Cosmetically, the Harrier gains plastic mudguards for better durability and longevity, and while the Excalibur cab is a carry-over from the Merlin MkII, inside the cab, operators are greeted with a light and spacious interior.
Folding steps conceal the sprayer’s screen wash bottle, and a clean water hand washing tank can be found alongside the steps.
“It is a really nice place to sit,” says Mr Bedford.
“Much better than my original Merlin, though it could do with more in-cab storage. As a contractor, I carry a lot of field maps and recommendation sheets, and some better storage space would be handy.”
That said, he has high praise for the sprayer’s auto-section control.
“It is a very accurate machine,” he says.
“And the simplicity of GPS means that there are no overlaps. Two, 1m sections sit at either end of the boom, with the rest being 2.5m sections. And on grassland without tramlines, I just keep driving until the screen is coloured in,” he says.
He adds that over the years he has been well looked after by both Househam and local engineer Jamie Fryer of Droitwich, and having clocked up 700 hours of trouble-free operation since taking delivery of the Harrier, he is pleased with his purchase.
“While the Merlin was my most challenging period of sprayer ownership, I could see no reason to move away from Househam, once a suitable replacement had been built,” he says.
“Though I spent a fair bit of time tightening hoses, plus nuts and bolts when the Harrier first arrived.”
This aside, he says the new Househam sprayer is proving to be a useful step forward, and has given his business the extra performance and productivity it sought, plus a little more comfort.
“You never know, this one might just see me out,” says Mr Bedford.