Farmer Focus: Electronics are making tractors less reliable

We’re reviewing how we purchase larger items of machinery such as tractors and sprayers. Our model for replacing tractors has been more or less unchanged for the past 35 years.

We purchased our first Fendt in 1982 and took delivery of our 36th Fendt in February this year. When we took delivery of our 308 back in 1982 there were less than 100 sold per year in the UK and to see one working out in the fields was a bit of a rarity.

In 2016 over 800 new Fendts were sold to UK farmers, which in a contracted market place since 1982 represents quite a significant market share.

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The tractors have given us great service over the years and some of the 300 and 500 series tractors amassed over 10,000 hours each.

The advantages of sticking with the brand were having a premium product, which proved reliable and had a good resale value.

Today we are finding that, although the tractors remain a premium product, for several reasons their resale value is not what it was, perhaps in part due to the numbers out there now.

The other issue we are finding with the greater reliance on electronics is that reliability has fallen. A simple electronic fault can bring things to a grinding halt and then downtime while you wait for a technician to come out with his laptop to get you going again.

Getting a call from your tractor driver to say that his tractor has locked out in neutral while driving down the high street in the local town can be rather stressful, to say the least.

For these reasons we are now reticent to take the tractors beyond 4,000 hours. While we have confidence with the mechanical aspects of going to greater hours, we don’t have confidence with the electronics, which cause expense, downtime and a lot of frustration.

Sprayer decisions

We are pondering our next choice of sprayer and at present are leaning towards going to contract hire. This would enable us to have a cap on our expenses and to know what we can budget for each year.

Our 5,000 litre 24 metre sprayer, which we purchased just over four years ago now, has a residual value of about 35% of what we paid for it and has cost £8,500 in repairs in the last year to keep it going, let alone the frustrations of downtime.

The benchmark for my issues with sprayer and tractor replacement has been on the Nottinghamshire farm, where we run a Fendt 512 with a 24 metre Landquip mounted, both in their 19th season.

They might be old technology, but they just keep rolling on.

Robert Law farms 1,700ha on the Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex borders growing cereals, mustard, a range of forage crops for seed, sugar beet, up to 200ha of catchcrop stubble turnips and 300ha of grass supporting a flock of 2,500 ewes. All land farmed is in environmental stewardship schemes. He also manages 500ha of sandland in Nottinghamshire.

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