Driver’s view: New Holland FR850 self-propelled forager

With new forager prices close to £500,000, it’s worth putting in some research before pulling out the chequebook. And who better to review a machine’s merits than its owner? Nick Fone gets the lowdown on a two-year-old New Holland FR850 from owner Andrew Butt in Somerset.

Based right in the heart of cheesemaking country, Butt Brothers contracting has been looking after the region’s dairy farms for more than four decades.

The family have had all makes and shapes of self-propelled forage-harvesters – in the late 1990s it was John Deeres and then a Claas Jaguar 900 in 2004. That was followed by an 820hp New Holland FR9090 in 2009 – the first of the yellow-liveried flagships sold in the UK.

“We were really impressed with the first FR. It had heaps of power, was reliable and, most importantly, the chop quality from the big chevron cylinder was 10 out of 10,” explains Andrew Butt.

“The size of the drum means it acts like a flywheel, particularly in lumpy grass, smoothing out crop flow and helping to keep output up.

“After five years’ hard labour, it had clocked more than 4,000 hours and was due for a change. As we always do, we looked around at what was on offer, but once again New Holland put together the best deal, so we went for the new range-topper – the FR850.”

Vital stats

  • 2014 model
  • 1,650 engine hours (1,500 cylinder hours).
  • 824hp, 20.1-litre Fiat/Iveco V8
  • 3m grass pick-up
  • 6.1m Marangon disc wholecrop header
  • 12-row Kemper maize header
  • 884mm wide
  • 16-blade chopping cylinder
  • Four feed-rollers
  • Made in Belgium

How has it performed?

Thanks to a redesigned chopping set-up with smoother crop flow, work rates are up by 10-15% over its predecessor. In first-cut grass, daily outputs regularly exceed 97ha/day.

In maize that figure is closer to 40ha/day, although a long shift can see that pushed up to more than 55ha/day.

Big improvements come in the cab, which is quieter than before. Being able to alter the speed of the feed rollers, pick-up and auger independently from the cab makes a huge difference to work rates in varying crops of grass. And the automatic matching of pick-up speed to forward pace means there is one less thing to think about and tweak.

Set-up is generally easy for the blades, blower paddles and shearbar. In seven seasons with both FRs, only one blade has ever been knocked back.

The FR’s trademark feature when it first appeared in 2007 was its pivoting crop accelerator that sits tight in behind the cylinder when the corn cracker is removed, but swings up and away when it is needed for wholecrop or maize. Operators seem to think that has a big effect on fuel and power use.

Fuel use

The 20-litre Fiat/Iveco V8 engine in the FR850 will generally get through 12-17 litres/ha in first-cut and 27-32 litres/ha in maize, according to Mr Butt. That is about 10% less, hectare-for-hectare, compared with the 605hp Mercedes V8 used in the Jaguar 900.

That said, the 1,220-litre fuel tank still isn’t enough for a long day’s chopping, so a second fill is often required.

Falling above the horsepower threshold for the latest emissions rules, the engine has no requirement for AdBlue, a big plus point for the Butts.

Has it been reliable?

Tyres were the first issue to rear their head. One of the 710/65R42 Trelleborgs developed a bulge between the lugs early on, meaning a replacement was necessary.

But the biggest issue so far with the new FR has been its appetite for pick-up tines. In the heavy grass season of 2014 it pretty much got through an entire set in six weeks.

“The new pick-up has five tine bars and runs faster than before, but the 5mm tines are the same and they just keep snapping,” explains Mr Butt.

“When one goes, it has nowhere to escape to and so it ends up ripping off a load more. And when it comes to changing them, you have to take off one band at a time, so it takes ages.”

And it’s a not dissimilar story with the wearing metal. The FR9090 had New Holland’s standard wear plates that needed replacing every few weeks. The FR850 was specced with Hardox, which has significantly extended their working life.

In its five seasons with the Butts, the old FR needed a new set of blower bearings every year and it appeared the new machine was following that pattern. However, with heavier-duty bearings fitted last season, things look to have improved on that front.

Andrew Butt in front of his New Holland forager

Andrew Butt

What would you change to improve it?

“The blower box is the main weakness. Because it is only made out of 3mm sheet there is a lot of flex in it. This means it can be a challenge to set the blower paddles to a 3mm clearance. Instead we position them at a calculated angle to the bottom of the chute. This means we get optimum blow in mid-season after they have undergone some wear and we are in the heavier crops of first-cut grass.

“It needs to be a lot stronger. I’m convinced that if it didn’t flex as much we wouldn’t have to keep changing bearings.”

The build quality of the chute also comes in for criticism. With the spout extension fitted to accommodate the 12-row maize header, there is a huge amount of leverage exerted on the turret. New Holland says it will have a stronger version for this season.

“In work you can see how much strain the whole spout is under. It was a real weak point and we were not sure how much longer it would have lasted.”

Although a seemingly minor issue, the parking brake is also a big bugbear.

“The handbrake on my Fiesta is beefier than the one on the forager. The pads only last three weeks.

“It collects dirt and then doesn’t release properly, so it’s constantly dragging. It’s just not man enough.”

Would you have another New Holland FR?

“We are always open-minded, especially when it comes to shelling out £500,000 on a new forager.

“Once the 850 gets to five years old we will look around at our options again – it could be any colour.

“For now the New Holland has the edge because of its pivoting blower and the speed of changing between crops. It’s not the simplest to set up, but once you have it right, its output is impressive.”