In terms of machinery developments, if not sales, 1997 was
an outstanding year, with new tackle to cater for most sectors
of the industry. Geoff Ashcroft reviewed the year to date
GROWING numbers of low rate finance offers, coupled to the steady decline in tractor sales can only mean one thing – the boom in UK farm machinery sales has passed its peak.
This Christmas, the machinery scene will be made tougher without the usual annual pilgrimage to the Smithfield Show. Only those who made the cross-Channel journey to Germanys Agritechnica Show last month would have been gently reassured that next years products will be just as exciting than this years.
Back on the domestic front, tractor sales started the year with a slump of 8.3% in January and 10.4% in February, compared to 1996. This was further compounded in March (28% drop) and May (23.5% drop). April, and the new tax year it brings with it, saw a slight increase in numbers sold compared to last year.
By mid-summer, much of the blame was pointed squarely at the strong £. It meant fewer second-hand tractors were going for export and dealers, unable to carry large stocks of second-hand machines, were faced with giving lower and lower values on trade-ins against new tractors.
By August, the R-reg revolution, although briefly arresting the fall in sales, simply didnt have the effect it was hoped it would.
And the score so far?
Figures from the Agricultural Engineers Association for the first nine months of 1997 brings the total of tractors sold over 40hp, to just 12,961 – 17.2% lower than 1996.
Even though the UK tractor market has been in a steady decline throughout 1997, there has been a continual flow of new and improved hardware throughout much of the year.
Renault kicked off 1997 with an all-new 85-165hp range called the Ares.
Components for the range are drawn from the companys alliance with Agco and John Deere – transmissions, for example, are a result of the GIMA project (a 50:50 joint venture with Renault and Agco) and extend from 16×16 to 48×48 boxes.
Up front, Renaults departure from the traditional MWM power plant sees Deere Power Systems providing the motive power, as tractor firms strive ever harder to meet forthcoming emission legislation.
Four months later, it was the turn of Case and Agco, who both introduced new models.
Cases four-model Maxxum MX range was quite a departure from existing models, despite only adding MX to the name. The key areas of improvement were in comfort, more capable engines and increased stability.
For the operator, new levels of quietness, improved visibility and larger door openings stem from the MX cab, with a clean, uncluttered console carrying the necessary spool valve levers, pto controls and gear levers all well to hand to the right of the operator.
Meanwhile, 150 miles south of Doncaster, Agco was beavering away with production of its MF4200 series at Banner Lane. Instantly recognisable as an MF product, the 4200 models feature subtly restyled panels and cab to differentiate it from the outgoing MF300 series.
But this is not simply a cosmetic job. All use stronger chassis to cope with an increase in lift linkage capacities, while revised cabs offer up to 16% more space and better all-round visibility through the use of a larger glass area.
Although the next major tractor range introduction was not in the offing until October, in the form of Agcos other tractor manufacturing interest – Fendt -, several companies used the summer months to trickle in the odd model.
Sisu started the ball rolling with its Mezzo 6200, shown at the Highland. Aimed at exceeding forthcoming emissions legislation, the Finnish tractor maker revealed its contender in the 80hp livestock sector.
Using a Permatorque engine with turbocharger and rotary injection pump, the emissions produced are said to meet the standards due to be in force by 1999.
Then, following the shift of Deutz tractor imports from Watveare to Same Deutz-Fahrs UK headquarters at Barby, Warwickshire, the company revealed an optional front axle suspension system for the Agrotron range. Plus, two additional models with 105hp and 120hp to fill gaps in the Deutz-Fahr range.
September, however, saw the emphasis shift away from tyres and onto tracks. The first 360hp Case Quadtrac appeared at work in Essex, while John Deere brought the first of its US-built rubber-tracked tractors into the UK.
At 260hp, Deeres 8400T is at the top of the rubber-tracked range. Based on the wheeled 8100, 8200, 8300 and 8400 models, Deere expects the range to account for about 40% of the 100 or so wheeled 8000 tractors sold each year, when it becomes fully available in 1998.
At about the same time, Claas showed green-and-white Challengers following its marketing agreement with Caterpillar and also launched its entrant to the tractor market – the Xerion 2500.
Described as a multi-function vehicle, the 250hp machine features front and rear linkages, a cab which can be relocated in one of three positions and a 20t load carrying capability. But the real functionality of the Xerion lies in the transmission – a combination of hydrostatic and mechanical drives.
Fendt too, breaks new ground in the transmission stakes and in October, extended its Vario transmission system to smaller models in the range.
Joining the existing 260hp 926 Vario are the 924, 920 and 916, with outputs of 230hp, 200hp and 170hp respectively. Using a combination of hydrostatic and mechanical systems, the Vario provides infinite variability of gear ratios to enable the operator to maximise output over a wide range of operations.
Not too much of a shake-up here, but important introductions non-the-less.
Plugging gaps in its range earlier in the year was New Holland, which increased its five-model combine range to eight and upgraded existing machines in the line-up.
Flagship straw walker model is now the TX68 Plus, a 310hp machine, knocking the previous 280hp TX68 into second spot. Leaving aside the horsepower difference, both models are technically similar. Header options are 6-9.1m (20-30ft).
New machines in the pack extend to the 240hp TX65 Plus and the 220hp TX64 Plus straw walker models, while the twin-flow TF78 Elektra is joined by the 255hp TF76 Elektra.
Also realising theres a gap in its combine range was Claas. It decided to develop the Lexion 440, which nestles smack-bang in the middle of the range.
Flanked by the 430 and 450 models, the mid-range Lexion carries six straw walkers and uses a 250hp Perkins engine; the result is a machine well equipped to handle its standard 6m (20ft) header. Grain tank capacity is 8100-litres (1781gal. Like other Lexions in the range, the 440 uses Claas Cebis control and monitoring system.
With trials of Deeres CTS rotary machine still taking place, it looks as though 1998 could hold the key to its introduction. And Deutz-Fahr, as well as launching its giant 8XL, has been undergoing its settling-in period after moving house from Watveare to Same Deutz-Fahr.
So that only leaves Case and MDW – and with the North American giant moving ever closer to becoming a "full-line" manufacturer (having bought Gem Sprayers in July), its recent announcement of the acquisition of MDW gives the firm timely access to a range of conventional combines to accompany its Axial-Flow models.
Biggest industry news on the handler front in 1997 was that the market will be increased with handler models from two of the "big four" tractor makers.
First on the scene was Agcos MF8937. It was quickly followed in May with the announcement by New Holland that it is to market its own range of machines built by Manitou.
In the agreement, New Holland telehandlers are to be built by Manitou, to New Hollands specification. Five models are destined for introduction ranging in capacities from 2.8t to 3.2t and with lift heights from 6m (20ft) to 9m (30ft).
Interestingly, of the big four tractor makers, it will be recalled John Deere already has an agreement with Matbro, while Case is still busy refining its shopping list – although there seems to be few telehandler options remaining.
Other new handlers to hit the market this year include JCBs 530-70 and TM270, Manitous MT835 and Matbros TS230, along with machine upgrades for the TS270 and TS280.
JCB, aiming for an even bigger slice of the farm handler market, brought two new developments to the market this year. First came the curvy 530-70 Loadall – a side-engine rigid chassis machine to replace the Farm Special Plus models. It was followed later in the year by the TM270 – the firms first serious contender in the 2.5t pivot steer sector.
The TM270 joins JCBs smaller TM200 pivot steer and draws on the companys loading shovel experience. The cab and pivot assembly are both taken from the loading shovel range.
At a time when most handler manufacturers were thinking big, Matbro bucked the trend and introduced the compact TS230 – the firms smallest four-wheel-steer handler to date.
Aimed at the livestock sector, with restricted access and traditional farm buildings, the TS230 combines a 2m (6.6ft) width with a 2.2m (7.2ft) wheelbase. In terms of manoeuvrability this equates to a turning circle of 2.9m (9.5ft).
As Oct 1 came and went, production of Sanderson Teleporters shifted south-east – to Bury St Edmunds, to be precise, the home of Claas. Badged simply as Teleporters, the UK machines continue in the traditional yellow-and-blue livery, while export models get the Claas green-and-white colour scheme.
In this sector, hardware developments continue to unfold. But this years major introductions have concentrated more on cutting spray bills and improving chemical deposition.
Making sparks fly earlier in the year was the resurrection of electrostatic spraying in the guise of the energised spray process (ESP) – Melroes Canadian developed system which is available on the 3000 series Spra Coupe imported by Chavtrac.
By applying up to 40,000V to the liquid in the spray tank, up to 30% less drift and 100% chemical deposition is claimed for the system when compared to conventional spray application.
Patch spraying received a similar focus of attention, primarily through Silsoe Research Institute and Microns developments.
Although still in need of further field testing, the system is moving ever closer to commercial availability. Micron reckons a system could be available in a couple of years.
Chavtrac too is trialling, but with the US-built Raven variable rate chemical injection system which injects prescribed amounts of concentrate into the spray lines.
It, like the other systems on trial, relies on information for changes in chemical concentrations being fed from a weed map programme. And to date, there lies the biggest stumbling block encountered by all systems.
In the self-propelled market, Gem Sprayers scaled down its Sapphire – shortly before Case acquired the business – to introduce the Emerald, Sands added an air-assisted sprayer to its line-up, while Hardi added more wind to its Twin, to create the Twin Force.
Other changes in the marketplace included the introduction of a trailed range using a steering axle from Cleanacres, Classic mounted and trailed models from Amazone, cab updates from Knight, the E series trailed machines from Hydro Chafer and a Landquip demount to suit the Clayton C4105.
Cereals 97 saw no fewer than seven new drills make their debut. From tines to discs, and combination outfits to grain-only models, there was something for everyone at Cereals.
New models included Tume HKK, Horsch CO/P, Great Plains and Juko Multiseed to name but a few.
But where output is the key, Gregoire Besson used the event to preview its 12m (39.3ft) Air-cart. Requiring 150hp to operate, the pneumatic drill uses a trailed hopper with its 96 coulters mounted on four 3m (9.8ft) hydraulically folding tool bar sections.
Other drill developments included John Deeres introduction of the Mulch Tiller and updates to Vaderstads Rapid.
For the one-pass enthusiasts, this year saw the introduction of two significant fold-and-go combinations in the guise of Amazones Airstar Xpress and Lemkens Solitair.
Case it seems, is making in-roads into most market sectors in its goal to become a full-line tractor and implement manufacturer, and as such, is not one to be left out of the drill market.
Although going through the UK evaluation process, it looks as though the firms 10m (33ft) wide Concorde pneumatic cultivator drill could be available next year.
On the plough front, Opico added the Niemeyer range, while Lemken and Dowdeswell showed continued prominence. Lemken with its SM8 and SM9, while Dowdeswell introduced variants of the 180 and 130 series Delta Furra models.
Proving that contractors are an increasingly important choice for livestock farmers wanting silage made ever quicker, Deere moved to the top of the horsepower stakes with its much revised self-propelled forager range.
With 505hp – rising to a massive 540hp with power bulge characteristics – Deeres 6950 is currently the most powerful forager on the market. It is followed by 440hp, 365hp and 280hp models.
The only other revision to the forager scene so far, is news that Same Deutz-Fahr is to beef up its Deutz Gigant range for 1998. Power for the three-model range is expected to be 300hp, 400hp and 500hp.
But bigger foragers need bigger mowing and gathering equipment, not to mention additional trailers and faster clamping ability.
And the response so far has been encouraging, particularly in the mower and tedding sectors.
Claas has developed a 10m (33ft) wide Volto tedder, while Kuhn offers the 7.5m (24.6ft) wide Gyrotedder. But the real developments are in the shape on self-propelled mowers.
Deutzs 6.4m (21ft) wide Grasant – with 260hp or 290hp – offers claimed work rates of up to 4.5ha/hour, while Krones Big M powers in with 300hp and the ability to devour 9.1m (29.9ft) of grass in one pass, using three 3.2m (10.5ft) mower conditioners. *
John Deere replaced its 6000 series tractors with the 6010 series at the November Agritechnica show. Front 3-link suspension is now an option.
Deutz Grasant 260H has 6.4m (21ft) wide mowing width and comes with 260hp engine. Workrates of up to 4.5ha/hr are said to be possible.
TM270 from JCB is the companys first serious contender in the 2.5t pivot steer market.