Launched at last year’s Lamma show, Knight Farm Machinery’s forward-control conversion, based on JCB’s latest 4000-series Fastrac, has been hard at work this year with Agrii. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
Knight Farm Machinery’s forward-control Fastrac conversion was one of the machinery highlights of the 2016 Lamma Show.
Developed initially to meet the needs of spray contractor Agrii, it represents an extension to the Knight range, and has resulted in a gutsy power unit with a large platform to take full advantage of the Fastrac’s hydro-mechanical continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The fact it could also have its spray pack swapped for a high-output spreader body only adds further efficiency to the creation.
Agrii’s contracts support manager Neil Millar (right) and spray operator Andy Dall.
To-date, only two examples of Knight’s Fastrac conversion have been produced, and both are hard at work in Scotland, equipped with 4,000-litre spray packs to handle chemicals and liquid fertiliser applications. While the first was equipped with a 30m boom, the second model moved up to 32m.
Early indications are that Agrii is so pleased with the performance and productivity of this latest spraying unit, a third model is currently being built at Knight’s Wireless Hill factory.
“Our next one is coming equipped with a 36m tri-fold boom,” explains Agrii’s contracts support manager Neil Millar. “And this is a direct response to market changes, as we are being asked to do increasingly more work on wider tramline spacings. But we still need to get down to 21m for many existing customers.”
"We are seeing additional productivity gains on liquid fertiliser work"
- NEIL MILLAR
While the third machine is currently undergoing its forward control transformation, the two existing models have been grafting since the day they arrived with Agrii.
The first model, in the hands of experienced spray operator Andy Dall, has clocked up 1,350 hours, while the second machine is heading rapidly towards its 1,000-hour service.
For Agrii, this new generation of self-propelled sprayer is unlocking additional output potential with contract spraying, where a 37-strong fleet of self-propelled sprayers can see off 200,000 hectares/year.
“We are seeing additional productivity gains on liquid fertiliser work,” he says. “Not just in the field, but largely with logistics on the road - the Fastrac’s ability to tow our bowsers from farm to farm quickly and efficiently is giving us a level of performance that our other self-propelled sprayers cannot match.”
A continuously variable transmission means the conversion is efficient on the road.
Agrii’s fleet comprises a mix of most types of self-propelled rig, which gives the firm vast experience and operational flexibility when it comes to selecting sprayers for specific tasks. But the Knight-Fastrac conversion was conceived for its ability to tow with confidence, in addition to meeting liquid fertiliser and spray applications.
“We initially wanted a couple of high capacity machines with great maneuverability that could run large diameter R46 tyres to boost ground clearance,” explains Neil Millar. “But we also wanted mechanical transmissions, so we could make the most of logistics from towing our bowsers.”
“And this is not so efficient with a hydrostatic transmission,” he adds.
“The Fastrac 4220 with a CVT seemed the ideal power unit, but we didn’t want a stretched chassis and longer wheelbase - it had to be forward control to provide a generous load platform, high maneuverability and good all-round visibility.”
One of two Knight JCB Fastrac conversions working in Scotland for spray contractor Agrii.
He says that while the conversions are not quite perfect, they are currently the best solution available for the extreme workloads faced by the company.
And operator Andy Dall agrees. “I’ve spent a lot of time in many different sprayer cabs, and this one is by far the best self-propelled sprayer I’ve ever used,” he says, though he recalls some reservations once he learned an all-new sprayer would be joining the fleet.
“We have an intense workload and I was a little concerned that we may have had lots of hold-ups and silly breakdowns as the bugs were found and ironed out,” he says. “But apart from an oil pipe that needed replacing, it has been superb.”
“I was also a little cautious of having two joysticks in the cab - one is a Muller unit for the sprayer which is piggy-backed onto the tractor’s own joystick,” he says. “But with the amount of time we spend in the cabs, you soon get used to using the right one depending on whether you’re driving or spraying.”
An Ag Leader touch screen terminal takes care of all sprayer functions.
As part of the conversion process, Knight repackaged many of the sprayer’s components to create more space between the axles. A revised diesel tank offers enough capacity for two day’s work, though Mr Dall says DEF consumption is above his expectations.
“The sprayer doesn’t work very hard, and runs comfortably at just 1,350-1,400rpm when spraying thanks to cruise control, so it needs more AdBlue than if it was working at full throttle,” he says. “On the road at full throttle, it’s reasonably quiet, but in the field using cruise control, the cab is whisper-quiet.”
When it comes to cab comfort, Mr Dall says the sprayer is in a league of its own.
“It rides very well, either on the road or in the field, regardless of whether it’s on row crops or flotation tyres,” he says. “There is plenty of power for everything we want to do, including pulling our 12,000-litre bowsers that we move from farm to farm, so we can take deliveries of liquid fertiliser at each site.”
Mr Dall reckons the forward location of the cab isolates it from any residual build-up of heat that you would normally get sitting in a tractor cab above a transmission or behind an engine. And he says JCB’s air conditioning is more than up to the job of keeping the cab cool.
When it comes to visibility, he uses two rear-view cameras to make it easy to see what’s going on behind.
“One camera can be tilted down to watch the drawbar when towing, or tilted up to see the centre section of the boom when spraying,” he says. “And the other camera is used in-field as a general rear-view unit.
Mr Dall adds that a tweak to the sprayer’s exhaust pipe has helped to keep heat away from the boom, deflecting energy away from some of the boom’s heat-sensitive plastic components. But these are small issues of on-going refinement that are often only found through many hours of fieldwork.
Similarly, time in the cab has enabled Mr Dall to tweak some of his procedures too, for example, making life easier at the start of each day.
“I now remember to park overnight with the front wheels on full-lock,” he says. “This makes it easy to step in behind the front wheel, first thing in the next morning and pull the engine oil dipstick without fuss.”
When: January 18 and 19
Where: East of England Showground
Opening times: 7.30 to 17.00 day one, 7.30 to 16.30 day two
Early bird breakfast: From 6.30 to 8.00
Parking and entry: Free