1996 – A GOOD YEAR TO BE A MACHINERY SALESMAN
Fortunes continue to ride high in the machinery sector with a seemingly unending list of
Andrew Faulkner reviews the main items of machinery news of the first nine months of 1996
"THEY think its all over. Well it is….." – apparently, not quite yet! The supposedly inevitable end to the current boom in UK farm machinery sales, predicted by most industry experts for 1996, simply hasnt happened.
Indeed, this is becoming a familiar tale. Back in 1995, we were told the 18,000-unit tractor market of the previous year was not sustainable; it was no more than a blip, largely down to a weak pound, good harvest and generous area payments.
Wrong. Tractor sales actually rose a further 5% in 1995 to total 19,000 units, and this years market looks like following a similar pattern.
But what about the BSE crisis? Surely that must have knocked market confidence and sales? Yes it has – but only in parts. Whereas some tractor makers have suffered up to a 25% slump in demand in the countrys livestock regions, the overall machinery market has held up because of continuing buoyancy in the arable sector.
So, on the whole, things are still looking good. And arent the machinery manufacturers just loving it? With at least two bumper years behind them, there are plenty of smiling faces in the trade and no shortage of funds to invest in new products. Here is just a selection of the developments to make it to the market in 1996, so far. Space, as they say, precludes an exhaustive list.
There is no doubt as to the biggest launch of the year. Back in February, while most of us were wrapped up in our winter woollies, New Holland rather sensibly travelled to the Florida sunshine to unveil its 35 and 60 Series tractors to its dealers and the worlds farming press.
Claimed to be "new from the ground up", the 60-160hp tractors come in both Fiat terracotta brown and Ford blue, and are built either in Modena, Italy (L/35 Series) or Basildon, Essex (M/60 Series).
From the outside, other than a vision-improving sloping nose, the tractors are no radical departure from the 40 Series models that went before, some of which are still available.
But then, as we all know looks can be deceiving. New engines, transmission options and a host of electronic gadgetry add up to what, in effect, is a very different and much improved driving experience.
Three months after New Hollands American jamboree, Sisu Machinery also completely overhauled its Valmet tractor line-up. This time, gay Paris was the venue. A total of seven new models joined the Sisu fleet, with none of the previous 110hp+ machines surviving the change.
The model which attracted most attention was the flagship 8750, a tractor which can cleverly alter its engine power output from 160hp to 190hp according to pto demand. The benefit? A lighter weight transmission, and hence tractor, can be used for most fieldwork, however the power unit retains the capability to put more grunt through the pto when needed. Forage harvesting is a good example.
Sisu is not the only company which has been busy developing alternative transmission systems; Fendt and the Same Deutz-Fahr Group are others, to name just two. Auto box operation for high hp tractors is the common theme.
The Same system for its 145hp+ tractors is a development of its existing three-range, nine-speed powershift, with the addition of extra software now allowing it to auto-shift ratios in respect of engine loading. There are three working modes on offer so the driver can use the box to best advantage, according to the type of work being carried out.
Yet more complex, in design if not in operation, the transmission fitted to the 260hp Fendt Vario is a combination of hydrostatic, mechanical and powershift. Too complex to explain in 500 words, let alone 50, the internal workings have a more simple aim: To match peak engine hp to optimum forward speed for maximum output – automatically. And there is even a cruise control setting, too.
Moving from transmissions to steering, JCB chose the Royal Show to launch its most interesting development of the year.
The Quadtronic four-wheel-steer system for the smaller 1100 Fastracs is a classic case of a manufacturer listening to the criticisms and acting upon them. Since launch the Fastrac has been knocked for its "turn in a county, if youre lucky" manoeuvrability, but the five-mode 4WS Quadtronic goes a long way to addressing that jibe.
So much for Valmet, Same, Fendt and JCB. But what of the bigger names in the UK tractor market – the likes of Massey Ferguson, Case and John Deere?
For MF, on the tractor front at least, 1996 has been a quiet year. The previous year saw the launch of both 6100 Series and 8100 Series models so 1996, not surprisingly, has been a time for consolidating and concentrating on sales. Only changes of note were the introduction of a new drop-nose tractor, the 90hp 6140HV, and the fitting of a pre-select direction shift lever to all 6100 tractors; early examples came with a button.
Although launching little new, Case has had a busy nine months "wheeling n dealing" in the tractor market. In the spring the lower hp 4200 and 3200 models were upgraded, closely followed in June by news that the US-based firm had bought a majority stake in the Austrian tractor maker, Steyr.
The high hp Magnums and mid-range Maxxums have also been face-lifted this year, so expect to see some interesting hardware on the Case stand at Smithfield.
What you probably will not see at Earls Court is the most imaginatively named tractor of the year, the massive 250hp Peter the Great artic from UMO Belarus. Powered by a 14.5-litre V8 and with little in the way of electronic gadgetry, "Big Pete" is a tractor for those who like their machinery Suffolk Punch-style – strong, simple and willing.
Also not at Smithfield, yet, what has to be one of the most eagerly awaited new tractors, is a successor to the MB-trac.
Ever since Mercedes-Benz finally stopped MB-trac production in 1990, farmers and contractors loyal to the pale green machine have been crying out for a replacement.
LandTechnik Schonebeck (LTS), assuming they can overcome a Mercedes no-exports clause, should answer those cries in 1997 with a 160hp MB-trac look-alike complete with modern electronic hydraulics and powershift gearbox.
Interested in a LTS-trac? Then watch this space.
If the 1996 tractor year belonged to the big guns at Basildon, then there can be no doubt that the main combining headlines centred on an area just a little further up into the eastern counties. Or to be more precise Saxham, Suffolk, home to Claas UK.
Not satisfied with launching what is claimed to be the worlds highest output combine, the 40t/hour Lexion 480 rotary, in 1995, Claas went "Lexion loopy" at the back end of this harvest with the introduction of six more models. Now, all bar the firms two entry-level harvesters bear the Lexion name.
Main difference between the new models and the big 480 comes at the rear, where the flagships two rotary separators are replaced by either five or six straw walkers. Modular construction is retained as are clever touches such as crop dividers which fold for transport, a single multi-link pipe connector for quick header attachment and pre-programmed harvester settings for easy switch between different crops.
Other combine announcements during the year may not have been as dramatic as the Claas news, but in their own way were equally as important.
That particularly applies to the small to medium harvester sector where there is still a healthy demand for machines.
To cater for this market, both New Holland and John Deere have new models on offer: In the yellow corner, the TC56 Hydro Plus, and in the green, the Brazilian-built 1170.
Filling the gap between the entry-level TC and top-spec TX machines, the hydrostatically-powered New Holland TC56 Hydro Plus comes complete with 4m (13ft) header, 170hp engine and a rotary separator. Price is £114,502.
Similarly powered but with a more basic mechanical transmission, the £96,000 JD1170 gets a wider 4.2m (14ft) header.
Also noteworthy is that John Deere has upgraded its Z Series harvesters with bigger engines and improved transmissions, and Deutz-Fahr now has a self-levelling "Balance" option for its 4060, 4065, 4075 and 4080 models.
Finally, no section on 1990s combines would be complete without some mention of precision farming and yield mapping – still, arguably, the most talked about innovation in UK farm machinery.
Through the year various companies have made announcements regarding new precision farming developments – Hydro Agri, Amazone, Chavtrac, Nordsten. The list goes on.
Yet Massey Ferguson, the concepts pioneer, still seems to lead the field – a position recognised by the RASE in May when it awarded the firm a gold medal for its past efforts.
This years MF precision farming work centres on the Datavision II combine/tractor information terminal and Fieldstar system which enables MF hardware to interact with that of other machinery manufacturers. For example, a Fieldstar-equipped tractor and Amazone spreader can now apply variable rates of fertiliser across a field according to information from a pre-programmed application map.
Were told the skys the limit for this technology – feeble pun intended.
From the dizzy heights of satellite farming to the daily grind of shifting stuff from A to B, materials handling remains one of the active sectors in the farm machinery market. And thats in spite of the BSE crisis.
Admittedly, materials handler sales have taken a knock this year, however, most makers also recognise that the previous years performance could not have been maintained. According to one importer, even if the total market is as low as 2000 machines by the end of 1996, about a 20% drop on 1995, that will still be significantly more sales than in 1992.
Big industry news in 1996 was the increasing German influence at Sanderson Teleporters. At the Royal Show, it was announced that Claas had bought a 50% stake in the once-traditional British family firm and still owner of what, for many, remains the generic name for all telescopic handlers – the Teleporter. In farming terms, it roughly equates to BMW buying Rover to get hold of the much loved and respected Land Rover badge.
Along with this shift in boardroom control, Sanderson also came out with probably the most significant handler launch of the year. In January it replaced both its 10-year-old 600 and 700 series machines with the all-new TL6 and TL7 Teleporters. Main changes over predecessors are different external dimensions, improved visibility and a bigger, more comfortable cab.
Other new handlers to hit the market this year include the JCB 520-50, Matbros TS300 and French maker Manitou upgrades for its five-, six- and seven-series machines.
Of these the 520-50 is the most radical in design, and has the potential to stretch the telescopic concept into hitherto-untapped sectors.
Using cranked boom design technology from JCBs Robot skid steer, the 520-50 manages to combine central cab visibility with a 2t lift to a height of 5m (16ft 5in).
That, added to compact external dimensions, is certain to find favour with stock farmers/tractor loader operators currently put off by the more bulky, side cab designs of more conventional telescopics.
Returning to those bigger handlers, isnt it almost magical how makers seem to come to similar conclusions all at the same time? Within a matter of weeks in the early summer, Merlo, Matbro and JCB showed off existing machines modified to accommodate taller tyres for improved on-clamp performance. Coincidence?
Indeed, the news of taller tyres at Grassland 96 almost overshadowed the welcome and not insignificant return of FDI Sambron to the UKs fiercely competitive telehandler market.
Ciba Agricultures Sprays & Sprayers event, held in the last week of June, consistently provides the best insight into the state of the UKs sprayer market. And 1996 was no exception.
Despite only accounting for 10% of the total sprayer market, it was self-propelleds that dominated the Whittlesford event for the second successive year with a number of new machines on show. There is little doubting the interest in big self-propelleds, and with a 50% increase in sales over the past four years, it is not too difficult to see why makers are so keen to grab their own slice of this growing market.
Among the debutantes this year were the massive Dammann, marketed in the UK by Amazone, Ferrags Rau self-propelled, bigger Knight Crusaders and Gem Sapphires, a taller Frazier 6954, an auto-suspension version of the Cleanacres Atlas, four-wheel-drive Alanco SprayRangers and the American-built Tyler Patriot Narrow Trax which is under evaluation by Mitchell-Rowlands.
The highly successful – yet rather non prolific in terms of new product – Bateman Engineering also managed to slide its new RB15 into the self-propelled sector in the firms customary understated style.
Bigger and more sophisticated than the firms long-serving HiLo, the combined sprayer/spreader/
drill incorporates a hydropneumatic suspension to give what is claimed to be a smoother ride and better traction. Other features over the HiLo include selectable two- and four-wheel-steer, hydraulically-adjustable track width and a bigger cab.
Not forgetting that sprayers do not have to come with their own engines, Gem, Knight and Allman also made changes to their tractor-mounted models. While in the trailed sector, Hardi and Tecnoma launched new machines.
Just as Sprays & Sprayers picks up on the predominant mood in the sprayer sector, events such as Cereals and the regional working demos do much the same for cultivation machinery.
There was no striking theme this year – more of a gut feeling. Secondary, combination cultivators seem to back in vogue and, with arable growers continuing to take on more ground, there is also renewed interest in big semi-mounted reversible ploughs.
Leading the combination cultivator crew are the likes of Opico, Dowdeswell, Lemken, Rau and Franquet. All use various set-ups of tine, disc, roller and levelling bar to achieve a similar effect, and to attract the same type of buyer: Either someone who runs a conventional, as opposed to combination drill, or a combination unit farmer looking to carry out some extra cultivation to speed up his power harrow/drilling operation.
Turning to rather heavier engineering, the renewed interest in semi-mounted reversibles has a certain "come full circle" feel to it. In the past, these big ploughs have lost out to the more manoeuvrable, fully-mounted models for coupling up to all but the largest of tractors.
Yet, the semi-mounted concept has to make sense: Hanging a load of furrows off one end of a tractor and fitting counter-balancing weights at the other, with the rear axle providing the pivot, is no recipe for long tractor life.
Plough designers recognise this, and have been working hard to make the semi-mounted concept more attractive. This year companies such as Dowdeswell, Gregoire Besson and Vogel & Noot have introduced semi-mounteds capable of tighter turns and with various automated systems aimed at reducing the number of operator functions needed at the headland when lifting out of and re-entering work.
Particularly impressive is the Dowdeswell DEC system fitted to the firms 180 Series Delta Furra semi-mounteds. A combination of plough-mounted sensors and an in-cab control box automatically raises, rotates, steers and lowers the plough on the field headland; the driver just looks after the tractor.
At the other end of the cultivation spectrum, sowing the seed, there have been a number of changes on the drilling scene. After many years of advocating full-width, gravity seed metering, Amazone joined the pneumatic sector at the Royal Show with its AD-P drills, and through the year there have also been new drills from Lely, Moore, KRM, Flexi-Coil and Vogel & Noot.
The Danish Agromek show, back in January, saw the European launch of what, in its front-mounted format, has to be the drill design with the most intriguing look of the year.
Available in 3m (9.8ft) and 4m (13.1ft) versions, the Kongskilde Demeter pneumatic has a futuristically profiled seed hopper which blasts seed to two metering chambers mounted directly on top of the drills two-row coulter bar. Cleverly, switching over the seed ferrying fans inlet enables the hopper to double as a massive vacuum cleaner for an extra fast fill – 0.5t in 2min, according to Kongskilde.
In the baling sector, 1996 will probably be remembered as the year the big boys sorted out their differences. Well, at least some of them.
After a long running dispute over the rights to sell "Hesston" big balers in Europe, it was announced at the end of July that New Holland and Agco subsidiary Massey Ferguson had reached an agreement. In simple terms, by paying New Holland a licence fee in relation to certain patents MF was able to start selling its 185MB and 190LB balers in the UK again.
Other news in the big baler market included product launches from Mengele and Claas.
From packing to handling, the increasing number of big baler options has seen some interesting developments in the world of accumulators.
In Lincolnshire, the farming company, P & A Services, has been operating a home-designed Swing Stacker that leaves a stack of three Claas Quadrant 1200-type bales and is claimed to cut field clearing times by up to 60%.
Also home-built in Lincs is D I Grant Strawmecs three-bale accumulator for the big Hesston 4900-type bale.
Switching from square to round, this sector of the baler market has had an "odd" year. Both New Holland and Claas have previously hung their round baling reputations on one type of machine – variable chamber New Hollands, and fixed chamber Claas -, yet both chose 1996 to swallow pride and take a leaf out of the other ones manual.
Neither New Hollands 544 fixed chamber or Claass Variant models will be available until 1997, but both are bound to create interest. Features on the New Holland include an easy-to-use Crop Cutter mechanism and cam-type clutch driveline protection, while the Claas Variant belt baler majors on minimising in-cab controls for the driver.
Notable by their absence are any significant moves in the conventional baler market, and driving around the country at harvest time one can see why. Certainly, in some regions, the old 45lb (20kg) package seems destined for the history books.
High dry matter silage machinery continues to dominate the grass conservation scene, with new big rakes and tedders appearing at an almost bewildering rate from the likes of Kverneland, RECO, Lely, Pottinger and Kuhn.
Indeed, it was no surprise to see this "scatter and gather" kit out in number at the Kemira Grassland event back in May. Rather more surprising was the sight of a full line-up of silage machinery crowded onto the Massey Ferguson stand.
Many will recall the days when most big manufacturers policy was to offer a full line of equipment – from tractors to trailers to chain harrows.
Well, here we go again. At Grassland 96, MF exhibited – "for evaluation purposes only" – a self-propelled forager, fixed and variable chamber round balers, four tractor-mounted mowers and a trailed mower conditioner range. And remember this was also the year that MF started selling big balers, too (see Baling Equipment).
At the harvesting end of the silage operation, there is little to report. Gone are the days when trailed harvester developments were big news. Only 550 trailed foragers were sold in 1995, compared with nearly 2000 units shifted 10 years earlier.
The reason behind the decline is clear. Contractors and their massive self-propelled foragers are becoming an increasingly popular option for stock farmers looking for 40ha/day (100acre/day) field clearance and less capital tied up in machinery.
On the self-propelled hardware front, again, nothing much to report. Most manufacturers have line-ups still fairly early in their life cycles so in 1996 there has been little change.
Look out in 97, though, for the Deutz Gigant 400, which importer Watveare has been testing this year. Powered by a 12-litre V6 engine, the 408hp forager shares its cab and hydrostatic transmission with Deutzs TopLiner combines.
Still further ahead, Krone has come up with a mower which will be trialled through next season before going on sale in 1998.
But this Krone is no ordinary cutting machine. Claimed to be the worlds first purpose-built, self-propelled mower, the aptly named Big M is powered by a 260hp engine through a hydrostatic transmission to four equal-sized wheels. Cutting gear comprises three front/side-mounted mowers, adding up to a total working width of 9m (29ft 6in) which should be able to clear about 8ha/hour (20 acres/hour).
So there you have it. Limited space dictates leaving out a whole host of interesting new products and names to hit the market this year – and thats just in the first nine months.
The list includes items such as a range of farm security devices, a portable slurry jetting machine for clearing out under slatted floors, a tombola sheep cradle, a calf/lamb resuscitator and the intriguingly named Tool Gobbler storage system. Getting bigger, there were also new ATVs, diet feeders, hedgers and bale handling/shredding machines.
Still, must stop now. Many congratulations if youve made it all the way through this review of the machinery year, from tractors to Tool Gobblers. There will be questions later (but sadly no prizes)! *
New Holland 60 Series tractors arrived with new engines, transmission options and electronic equipment.
Massey Ferguson 6140HV was a new drop-nose entrant in the 90hp class.
A total of six new Lexion combines were launched at the back end of 1996. They differed from flagship 480 in having either five or six straw walkers rather than rotary separators.
Sanderson replaced 600 and 700 Series machines with TL6 and TL7 models.
Bateman RB15 self-propelled sprayer arrived at Sprays and Sprayers.
Demeter drill has a hopper that can double as massive vacuum cleaner.
New Holland 544 round baler will be launched in 1997.
P & A Services accumulator for Quadrant bales stacks them three-high.
Deutz Gigant has V6 408hp engine and shares cab and hydrostatic transmission with Topliner combines.