JCB might have the UK construction industry sewn up, but the agricultural telehandler market is more competitive than ever. The Staffordshire-based manufacturing monster remains number one but, with Manitou a close second and the likes of Merlo and the German-built Claas/Kramer combination selling plenty of machines, competition in the sector is rife.

The Italians currently claim about 15% of the 3,500-a-year market but are looking to increase that with their new range of Turbofarmer telehandlers.

The most blatant change is on the product list, which has shrivelled from eight models to just three. There are now only two lift capacities to pick from – 3.8t or 4.2t – and two lift heights – 7m or 10m. All of the models have the same, redesigned chassis and proportions regardless of engine size or boom reach, but there are still 20 different spec combinations to pore over.

The popular, 100hp P34.7 and 36.7 models have morphed into the 122hp TF38.7. The previous models with a 10m reach – ideal for straw bale stacking – all now come under the TF38.10 umbrella and can be ordered with a 120hp or 156hp engine.

Merlo’s best seller – the P40.7, as well as the P41.7 – have become the TF42.7. It is propelled by the bigger of the two engines, which uses a particulate filter, EGR and a catalyst to deal with emissions.

Engine

Merlo has had a rejig in the engine bay, mounting the Deutz powerplant lengthways and the radiator parallel to the ground to make more space.

The reversible fan now runs according to engine temperature, which should mean it saps less horsepower while the engine is cool – a small contribution towards the 18% fuel savings Merlo claims against previous models.

Further savings can be achieved by selecting the “eco” working mode. This pulls the reins on the engine to an 1,800rpm limit, while the heavy load setting lets the motor run at full chat.

In machines specced with cab suspension operators can also set the engine to rev proportionally as the joystick is pushed or pulled without having to step on the throttle.

Hydraulics

Separate hydraulic and hydrostatic circuits reduce the chance of contamination and heat exchange between the two systems.

But, while most manufacturers are looking to beef up their oil flows, Merlo has gone in the opposite direction. It might look less impressive on the spec sheet but the company says cycle times have been maintained even though flow has reduced to 130 litres/min, achieved by having fewer connections and less pipework. It also means the system requires less cooling.

A flow-sharing system on higher-spec models also allows multiple functions to be used at the same time through the electric joystick. More basic models stick with mechanical controls but, whichever you pick, you’ll have to get used to squeezing a safety switch on the spine of the joystick all the time it’s in use.

Cab

Merlo has extended its new cab to over 1m wide and improved visibility by looping a single piece of glass windscreen over the driver’s head.

merlo-cab

The Italians are also one of the only companies that make it possible to lock open both sections of the door – a big bonus for those frequently hopping in and out. Other logical changes have seen the radio shift from a leaky dash glovebox to the loader roof lining and an updated cab fan to replace the dinosaur-age two-speeder that went before it.

A small, colourful dash screen shows the main working information but there’s also an extra monitor to show lift and weight information. The screen shows what the machine is capable of lifting using a weighcell on the main lift ram, which means it can double-up as an on-board weighing system recording cumulative weight.

Transmission

Merlo loaders and hydrostatic transmissions go hand-in-hand, but operators have more control over the gearbox than before.

There’s now a cruise control that can be set to maintain a constant speed – ideal for bucket brushing or steady work along feed passages – and 40kph comes at 1,800rpm rather than the 2,400rpm.

One radical step by the designers has seen the shuttle lever ditched in favour of buttons for forward and reverse on the steering column. It means forward/reverse can also be controlled on the joystick, but it will certainly take some getting used to, particularly for those that run different colour telehandlers on the same farm.

Prices start at around £71,450 for the TF38.7-120, while a TF42.7-156 with cab suspension has a £78,950 ticket price.