16 April 1999

BIG FUTURE FORECAST FOR

DOUBLING UP…

BRITISH farmers have frequently been accused of ignoring the benefits of operating implements front and back at the same time. But a progressive increase in the use of front three-point linkage – and availability of tractors better suited to carrying them – is seeing this concept being taken up more widely.

The main bone of contention is that front-mounted equipment can sometimes make outfits unwieldy. That may be so. But they can also reduce costs where two operations can be combined, improve timeliness when operations can be completed more quickly and reduce soil compaction.

Working down heavy clay land at Ashtree Farm near Rugby, Warks used to involve more than one cultivation pass in preparation for drilling. After ploughing, top work required two 120hp Case 5150 Maxxum tractors each working 4m (13ft) power harrows. Drilling was a separate operation.

But after persisting with this combination of tractors, drivers and machinery to established 380ha (950 acres) of wheat, barley and rape, grower Peter Fowkes decided it was time for a change.

"Covering the ground was not a problem – in fact the tractors were too fast behind the plough and often caught up too quickly," he says. "The real problem was the time, labour and costs involved."

Wider folding

The farm considered buying a wider folding power harrow to reduce the number of tractors needed from three to two. But this would not appreciably reduce the amount of wheelings involved.

"A single pass with a power harrow would not always remove the wheel marks and this could result in very poor germination," says Mr Fowkes. "This is when we decided to go for a front and rear power harrow/drill combination."

A 3.5 tonne Zuidberg front linkage from Lynx fitted the bill, sandwiching the 264hp Case 7250 Magnum between a 4m (13ft) power harrow up front and another carrying an Accord drill at the rear.

Mr Fowkes reckons the benefits were quick to emerge: "The job was easier to organise because there were fewer tractors and drivers involved, and we immediately cut fuel consumption by half – so the linkage easily paid for itself in the third year," he says.

Although outputs are modest at up to 20ha (50 acres) a day, the combination has no difficulty keeping up with the six-furrow Dowdeswell plough. The front-mounted power harrow also acts as a better counter balance to the heavy rear combination than traditional ballast because it is carried that bit further forward.

It looks a bulky outfit but Mr Fowkes insists there is no problem with visibility.

"When the power harrow is in work, it is below the bonnet line and because it extends wider than the front wheels, it is easy to see the worked ground," he explains.

Apart from limiting road transport speed because of the size and weight of the front-rear implement combination, Mr Fowkes is satisfied with the concept of using equipment in this way.

He concludes: "Its a tool we are going to use more in the future without doubt." &#42