9 November 2001

RUBBERTRACKGIANTBEST

In search of massive draft

performance to handle a 6m

cultivator and an 8m drill,

Bedfordshire contractor LE

Barnes turned to Cases

mighty 440hp Quadtrac.

Geoff Ashcroft reports

ROBERT Barnes believes in the use of rubber tracked machines. Used with large equipment to cover vast acreages in the shortest possible time, he reckons there is no viable alternative that can come close in terms of sheer output and low ground pressure capability.

"We rarely run wheeled tractors in fields for autumn cultivation work," explains the Bedfordshire contractor who operates from Roxhill Manor Farm in Marston Moretaine. "Only rubber tracks will do – but there is a limit to their application."

He cites the recent purchase of a 440hp Case STX440 Quadtrac, bought to replace a 410hp Claas Challenger 95E – itself something of a beast in terms of performance – for heavy draft work.

Limited horsepower

"We didnt realise there would be a limit to the amount of horsepower we could realistically make use of with the Challenger 95E," he says. "But in our experience, 350hp was as much as we could successfully put down, particularly when working wide cultivation equipment up and down some of the steep banks around Bedfordshire."

Over the last 11 years, the Barnes contract farming business has grown to about 1821ha (4500 acres) which includes 526ha (1300 acres) farmed at Roxhill Manor Farm. As the workload has grown, so too has the machinery fleet, but instead of using lots of small machines, the Barnesopted to pursue the rubber tracked route as higher horsepower, lower ground pressure and wider working machines became the order of the day.

"The rubber tracks offer many advantages, including outright productivity and easier road transport over similar powered wheeled tractors, which would also need dual wheels to be effective," he says.

It is a route that has seen the firm expand its rubber tracked fleet from one Cat Challenger 65 in 1989, to a fleet of four models, including Challenger 45, 55 and 75 models, and the Quadtrac STX440. And to get over the demanding autumn workload, the crawlers are run 24 hours/day, seven days/week, with a team of skilled operators that work in two 12-hour shifts.

"The Challengers are a superb tool and we will continue to run the 45, 55 and 75 for a variety of autumn cultivation and drilling systems, but last autumns wet conditions saw us reach the limit on heavy draft work with the 95E," he says. "The two track system just couldnt maintain progress on slopes with a 6m Simba solo."

It is a feature of the Challengers – and one that promotes high manoeuvrability – that sees track speed varied to make headland turns.

"The 95E will out-manoeuvre the Quadtrac, but it just didnt have the power to weight ratio we needed to climb the banks pulling the cultivator," he adds. "And it was a problem that became exaggerated when turning."

Working on the theory that you need weight to move weight, Mr Barnes looked at the Quadtrac – its 24 tonnes operating weight and 480hp peak power output offering the potential to maintain progress on the banks, more so than the 95Es relatively lightweight 16.5 tonnes and 410hp. And to date, the Bedfordshire contractor is not disappointed.

"Okay, so weve lost some of the low ground pressure capability by moving to the heavier Quadtrac, but it still treads quite lightly," he says. "With a pivot steer chassis, it doesnt suffer from the same track speed variations when making headland turns – it just keeps pulling."

Key tasks for the STX440 include primary cultivation with a 6m wide, Simba Solo cultivator and 6.6m Cultipress working in combination, plus drilling with an 8m Freeflow drill. Since joining the Barnes machinery fleet in July, the STX has so far clocked up about 600 hours, and operator Aubrey Tucker has praise for the way the machine handles large equipment.

"It took a while to get used to the pivot steering, but the STX has enough traction and power to take cultivation work in its stride," he says.

Mr Tucker likes the Quadtracs lofty cab position too. "You can see all around the machine from the cab and with a swivelling seat, theres plenty of room to get comfortable for those long days at the controls."

With a long-term view, Mr Barnes reckons the STX440 has given the firm the confidence to cover more ground faster, when conditions allow.

"The Quadtrac is effectively a tug," he says. "It just pulls and pulls regardless of the conditions or the implement and is certainly boss of the job. Its so unstoppable that you have to be able to identify the times when you shouldnt be on the land."

Drill capacity

"We have the capability to drill 220 acres/day – though our average is more like 120-150 acres," he says. "And when cultivating, we can cover about 60 acres in a 12 hour shift."

In terms of track wear and long term reliability, Mr Barnes remains quietly confident about the 440hp machine.

"We are looking to grow the contract farming business even further, but because our business is all about timeliness, we need to ensure that we maintain total reliability – and weve never had a problem with Cat equipment and track life easily passes 4000 hours," he says. "I just hope the STX lives up to expectations." &#42