1 January 1999

This sceptics won over

IT once seemed that the place for the engine on an agricultural materials handler was at the back of the machine, as was a high boom pivot point.

But that view changed in 1993 when the wraps came off the Italian-built Merlo TurboFarmer. Contrary to the then established practice, its low slung boom nestled in a channel between the cab and a mid-mounted offset engine; it also drove through a hydrostatic system rather than a torque converter transmission.

Main benefit claimed for this engine/boom configuration was a genuine, 360í vision with the boom down.

And it was the visibility factor above all else which convinced FJ Bunney & Sons that Merlo was the make for them, when they moved their business to Avington Manor Farms 522ha (1290 acres) at Avington, Hants.

Here, the 213 head Lakeland herd of Jerseys is supported on 101ha (250 acres) of grass and 28ha (70 acres) of maize. Combinable crops – primarily autumn sown oilseed rape, wheat and barley – account for 283ha (700 acres), with the balance of the farm in woodland.

"With the move we had the opportunity to re-equip and replace the tractor/front end loader combination we had been using to load our diet feeder; we also had about 2000t of grain to move off the farm at harvest, as we do not have drying and storage facilities yet," says John Bunney, a partner in the business.

"We needed two handlers – both the livestock and the arable side warranted a machine, especially during the summer. And, as the handlers would be working for the most part in and around buildings, all round visibility was paramount, from both an operational and a safety point of view." With its offset engine and low boom, the Merlo took the visibility stakes hands down against the competition, according to Mr Bunney who insists he tried most handlers on the market. Two P28.7EVTs arrived on the farm last October.

Over the past 12 months one machine has clocked up over 1000 hours on general work. This included hauling some 2000 Hesston big straw bales on trailers from the field to farm last harvest and loading grain lorries.

The other has put 600 hours on its clock on cattle feeding duties. The dairy herd is split into high and low yielders and heifers, with each group fed a total mixed ration once a day.

"Both machines have performed well and they have been extremely reliable," says Mr Bunney.

From the operators seat, Nick Pragnell is also impressed with the Merlos performance,although he admits to an initial scepticism. "Not many people I spoke to had heard of them," he remarks.

But having driven the P28.7EVT it is a different story. "The Merlo definitely has good visibility and it also has got the power."

The Merlos compactness also comes in for praise as does the hydrostatic transmission, which incorporates a two-speed drop box.

"Just using the foot throttle to control both the speed and the power takes getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it is easy – just touch the accelerator and the response is very precise," says Mr Pragnell.

Engine power and a lift capacity of 2.8t to 6.95m (22.8ft) means bucket work and stacking Hesston bales five high in the barn pose no problems to the P28.7EVT.

But changing attachments for these two operations reveals what Mr Pragnell considers to be a serious fault in the Merlos design – the difficulty of attaching the auxiliary service connections.

"You cannot relieve the pressure in hydraulic lines, you have to push the connector on to the coupling then tighten it by hand, or with a spanner, against the pressure."

The result is oil spilling over the operators hands. Not only is this unnecessarily messy maintains Mr Pragnell, it also leads to painfully grazed knuckles if the spanner slips.

Another feature of the machine Mr Pragnell feels can be improved is the power of the working lights.

"They are not much help when working inside buildings at night," he comments.

Despite these criticisms, both owner and operator are pleased with the all round performance of the P28.7EVTs. &#42


&#8226 Engine Perkins 114hp, 4-cyl turbo.

&#8226 Transmission Hydrostatic with two-speed drop box.

&#8226 Maximum lift 2.8t to 6.95m (22.80ft).

&#8226 Maximum forward reach 3.58m (11.75ft) with 1100kg.

&#8226 Price £34,600.