5 January 1996

and build it yourself

Beat high equipment costs

Modifying existing farm equipment can result in big cash savings when kitting out a new systems tractor. Andrew Faulkner visits a Peterborough farmer who has done just that

THE high cost of "tooling up" a specialist systems tractor with a range of tailor-made equipment is often a convincing argument for sticking with the conventional.

After all, such costs are not insignificant: Investing in a new demount sprayer, drill and fertiliser spreader can leave little change from £50,000 – a similar figure to the cost of the tractor itself.

But buying new is not the only approach. There is an alternative, according to Northants farmer Robert Chapman, who farms at South Lodge Farm, Barnwell, near Peterborough.

Mr Chapman bought a 145hp JCB Fastrac 145T in 1991, as part of a re-organisation of the farms tractor fleet. This now comprises two mainline tractors – a 170hp John Deere 7800 along with the Staffs-built Fastrac.

"From the start I could see the potential to build specialist equipment around the Fastracs load carrying platform," Mr Chapman says.

"But I was never going to spend thousands of pounds on kitting the tractor out with new implements; we could justify the price of the tractor on 900 acres, but not a load of extra costs on top."

Fastrac first choice

The Fastrac was chosen for its ability to carry out top work, such as fertiliser spreading and spraying, at faster working speeds without damaging both man and machine; the farm regularly spreads compound fertiliser at 12kph (7.5mph) on ploughed land. In addition to fertiliser spreading, the tractor is also used to spray, drill and haul a 15t grain trailer.

Rather than buy new kit for those operations, Mr Chapman set about modifying the farms existing and low cost second-hand equipment to match the Fastrac.

First into the farm workshop was a 15t bulker body from an old AEC eight-wheeler lorry. The cab and front two axles had already been replaced by a conventional drawbar, but the running gear was worn out.

Twin sprung axles from an ex-United Carriers box trailer replaced the worn out running gear, and a dual braking system – air-operated for use with the Fastrac, and hydraulic for the John Deere – was fitted. Total cost of the work was about £500.

Next item into the workshop was the farms Wil-Rich 6m (20ft) wide, trailed tine drill. In its original format, the drill comprised a central 1.5t capacity hopper and pto-driven seed distribution fan, which were mounted on a wheeled carriage unit in front of the tined coulter bar.

"Our plan was to get rid of the wheeled carriage unit, and mount the hopper directly on the Fastrac. Its easier to carry weight than to pull it," Mr Chapman explains.

Today, the drill is a very different machine. The hopper is now mounted on the Fastracs load platform, the pto-driven seed distribution fan has been replaced by a hydraulically-powered Sulky unit, and the 6m wide coulter bar is coupled up to the tractors three-point linkage rather than towed.

Not satisfied with only having the one sowing option, Mr Chapman has also developed a power harrow/tined coulter combination unit.

This outfit retains the hopper and Sulky fan from the cultivator drill, but replaces the 6m coulter bar on the tractors rear linkage with a 4.5m (14ft 9in) wide power harrow/tined cultivator drill combination.

Flexible cultivation policy

"This farms heavy boulder clay cannot always be treated the same – the cultivations policy has to be flexible, according to the season," Mr Chapman says.

"Although I dont like power harrows – theyre slow and power hungry – theyre good to have around when soil conditions dont allow the use of faster outfits. As a comparison we achieve workrates of 90 acres/day with the cultivator drill, but only 45 acres/day with the power harrow combination."

Again, Mr Chapmans power harrow combination drill was built from existing and low cost secondhand equipment; the 4.5m (14ft 9in) wide Maschio power harrow was already on the farm, while the tined coulter bar comprises two modified 2.25m (7ft 4in) wide Carier units bought from a local dealer.

Total cost of building the farms two drills, excluding labour, was about £1200.

The only relatively "off-the-shelf" item that Mr Chapman has bought for his Fastrac is a secondhand 18m Lely demount sprayer. Price paid was £2700. &#42

Seed pipes are banked together to speed up hitching/unhitching South Lodge Farms various seeder units.

This Wil-Rich/Maschio-based power harrow drill combination is one of two sowing outfits built by Robert Chapman for his 145hp JCB Fastrac.