16 April 1999

Untried 8400T import gamble pays off in end

John Deeres 8400T rubber

tracked tractor hit the UK

almost two years ago, when

Courteenhall Farms bought a

model in off its own bat.

Was it worth the effort?

Ian Marshall reports

COMMITTING the thick end of £100,000 to a new and untried tractor design would be considered an act of faith by some, verging on folly by others.

It was an act of faith for Courteenhall Farms, Courteenhall, Northants, when, in July 1997, it imported a 260hp John Deere 8400T rubber tracked tractor from America 12 months before its official UK launch.

"I would only have taken the chance with a John Deere. They would not have put it on the American market had it not been tested and proved to their satisfaction," says Courteenhall Farms manager, David Townsend, who admits to having green blood in his veins.

Behind the decision lay the need to replace an ageing Caterpillar D5, which had clocked up 6000 hours in its 10 years of heavy cultivations on the farms 760ha (1900 acres) of arable cropping.

There was also a change in the farms machinery and cultivations policy, aimed at lowering production costs with fewer staff, brought about by replacing two combines with a single machine, a John Deere CTS.

"To reduce establishment costs, without sacrificing seed-bed quality or drilling precision, we changed from a plough, disc and press, 4m power harrow/drill combination, to a system based on ploughing and discing and pressing in front of a higher output 6m (20ft) Vaderstad Rapid drill," says Mr Townsend.

"We needed the power to enable us to do all the cultivations work with two full-time staff, myself and a part timer".

There was no question of the Caterpillar being replaced with anything other than a tracklayer which would be working in tandem with a 260hp John Deere 8400 wheeled tractor.

"Wheels are more suited to ploughing, but the Caterpillar proved the value of a light tread when secondary cultivating and drilling on the farms sand and clay soils," he says.

When it came to a choice of rubber or steel tracks, rubber won the day, as they enabled the tractor to travel the short, but numerous, road distances between areas of the farm without needing a low loader.

Two seasons

In its two seasons at Courteenhall, the 8400T has clocked up 750 hours and put 1200ha (2940 acres) under its tracks on the front of 6m (20ft) of Simba disc/Double Press combination and the 6m Vaderstad Rapid drill.

It has also put in time pulling a Howard Engineering five-leg sub-soiler.

As to the tractors performance: "I am delighted, it has performed extremely well. It is remarkably well-built and, after a couple of teething problems, it has been very reliable," is Mr Townsends verdict.

"Teething problems" amounted to a steering computer failure and a final drive bearing recall, both sorted out promptly between John Deere UK and Deeres American technicians.

Another feature Mr Townsend picks out for comment is the 8400Ts low ground pressure.

"It walks very lightly, you do not have to go as deep to take out the track marks as you do wheelings," he says.

There is also the tractors output in front of the drill. A comfortable 40ha a day (100 acres) means increased timeliness and being able to wait for the right conditions.

From an operators point of view, Wayne Sheppard highlights cab comfort and ease of servicing.

The only shortcomings centre on the tractors steering.

"No matter how much care you take turning on the headland when drilling, the tracks leave scuff marks in the seed-bed. Turning in wet conditions with heavy implements can also be a problem, as, although the steering is proportional, the outside track tends to dig in and slip," Mr Townsend says.

Despite these limitations, he has no misgivings about his decision to jump the gun with the 8400T.

"It has enabled us to achieve our objective and no serious mechanical or design faults come to mind, so I think the choice was the right one." &#42

After two seasons and 1200ha under its tracks, Courteenhall Farms manager David Townsend is delighted with his decision to go it alone and import the UKs first John Deere 8400T. Left: In action with the farms 6m Vaderstad drill.