12 November 1999

CHALLENGERS MUSCLE KEEPS GRIPONCOSTS

With 410hp of tracked

muscle, the Claas

Challenger 95E is currently

the most powerful

rubber-tracked machine

working in the UK.

Geoff Ashcroft caught up

with two Leics brothers who

bought one to streamline

their farming operation

THERES just no substitute for horsepower, say brothers John and Charlie Pick, who farm 1578ha (3900 acres) of heavy, sloping land at Lane Farm, Tugby, Leics.

Trading as Picks of Tugby, the brothers recently swapped four tractors for one mighty 410hp Claas Challenger 95E as a soaring wages bill and falling cereal prices forced a major policy rethink.

"We needed to put a lid on costs and that meant a fresh approach to autumn cultivations and drilling," says John. "We had to do the job quicker and easier, and with the minimum number of staff, the only viable option was to reinvest in really big tackle and some serious horsepower."

Previously, Picks relied on 10 tractors (two 240hp 8970s were the mainstay of the fleet), a host of ploughs, power harrows and combination drills, five full-time employees, plus casual labour and John and Charlie Pick themselves. This season, harvesting, cultivations and drilling are down to the brothers plus four full-time men after a 240hp New Holland 8970, two 125hp New Holland 8340s and a variable horsepower Cat D5 crawler tractor were sold to make way for the 410hp machine.

"We had to sell a lot of kit too, as it was all too small for the Challenger," says John.

Road transport

Harnessing the Challengers 410hp, is a 4m Simba mono subsoiler working in combination with a 4.6m double press and a 7.3m set of Simba 2B disc harrows coupled to a 7.6m Simba double press with leading tines. Drilling is the domain of an 8m Vaderstad Rapid. And with the exception of the 4m subsoiler, all fold within the Chall-engers width to ease road transport.

With such an inventory, it is clear the Picks are geared up for maximum output.

"Its also a US spec Challenger which has four spool valves and only a drawbar," says Charlie. "There is no three-point linkage on this machine – its a dead pull."

As might be expected, output is high whatever the task. Subsoiling output is about 45ha/day (110 acres), while discing reaches a comfortable 100ha (250 acres), as does drilling.

But to get the best from the machine, the Picks have brought a whole new meaning to "a days work" – for the Challenger this means 20 hours, with two drivers taking it in turns to run up 10 hours each in the hot seat. From midnight to 4am, the Challenger has a chance to cool off.

"Weve chosen not to maul about in corners of fields or around telegraph poles with the Challenger – with such big kit, its just too fiddly to keep backing up," says Charlie. "We have to accommodate field sizes from 14-120 acres, so its easier to keep the Challenger working on long straight runs, then send in a smaller tractor and power harrow to finish off in the corners or around obstacles."

High output

This aside, the Picks reckon the Challengers high output has put their autumn workload about two weeks ahead of where they were last year.

"Its useful to have the capacity in equipment to buy a little time," says Charlie Pick. "This season has been the easiest and most stress-free autumn I have ever experienced."

With about 650 hours on the clock since the Challenger arrived at Lane Farm in June, the Picks are pleased with their investment.

"We nearly opted for the lower powered 85E, but weve found the extra horses of the 95E are only just adequate when working on sloping ground," says Charlie. "I sometimes wish we had a bit more available horsepower to cope with the farms steeper land."

Despite the Challengers ability to cover vast acreages, it has quite a thirst for fuel, guzzling its way through about 1600 litres (350gal) of diesel each day.

"It seems a lot of fuel, but when you consider how much work is being done, then it really does start to look quite economical," says Charlie. &#42