While the latest technology tends to grab all the headlines when it comes to new tractor developments, it’s often the lower-tech Cinderellas of the sector that are often the ones quietly plugging away at less glamorous jobs than acre-eating cultivations and high-speed haulage.
On hill farms, dairy and beef units, outdoor pig enterprises, vegetable operations and even on small arable farms, reliable simplicity is often what’s required – something to pull a feeder or slurry tanker, perhaps, or a veg harvesting rig.
But are such tractors still available from the mainline manufacturers? And are those machines from the less well-known or less fashionable makes built and backed to ensure the reliability that such tasks demand?
After all, downtime on a big cultivations tractor might mean a delay in drilling, but a breakdown on a stock tractor could mean an overflowing slurry lagoon, or animals going unfed, situations that are arguably more critical.
List the UK’s main tractor suppliers alphabetically, and the most obvious purveyors of basic tractors bookend things nicely. Belarus and Zetor have long been known for simplicity and robustness, and there’s little evidence of electronics on the 100hp offerings from either.
Imported into the UK by West Yorkshire firm Browns of Liversedge, and sold through a network of 21 dealers, the Belarus range includes three tractors around the 100hp mark, all with four-cylinder engines.
As you might expect, electronic options aren’t even on the price list for the 4wd 90hp 920.3 and 100hp 952.3. The 920.3 is even available in economy and super economy versions, with low cost features such as dry brakes and constant mesh gearboxes.
* Cost? £16,850 for the 920.3, £17,500 for the 952.3.
The main Zetor contender at this spec/power level, meanwhile, is the four-cylinder 99hp Proxima 95, which is also available in Proxima Plus and Proxima Power versions. The standard machine features a 12×12 synchromesh gearbox, while Plus versions get a 16×16 with two-speed splitter mechanical shuttle, plus 40km/hr capability.
Power models, meanwhile, have a 24×24 transmission with three powershift steps, and like the Plus tractors get three double-acting spool valves.
* Cost? £23,604 for the Proxima 95, £25,791 for the 99hp Proxima Plus and £28,276 for the 105hp Proxima Power.
Less well known but in a similar low-cost bracket, is Chinese maker YTO, whose machines come to the UK through Lincolnshire importer Rabtrak. Its 100hp X1004 is the smallest in a range of three machines powered by Perkins six-cylinder engines. All come with 4wd as standard, and a 12×4 synchromesh transmission with 30km/hr top travel speed.
Rear linkage lift capacity is just 2,800kg, but then most users won’t be looking to hoist high capacity cultivation kit with this type of machine.
* Cost? £23,000 for the 125hp X1254 and £18,000 for the 90hp X904.
Kubota’s main mechanical option around the 100hp mark is the four-cylinder turbocharged 99hp M9540, the flagship of its 40 series. Transmission is a six-speed, three-range synchromesh with two-speed splitter and hydraulic shuttle, and the only real sop to electronic technology is switch-based 4wd and pto engagement, plus basic digital instrumentation. But mechanical doesn’t necessarily mean economy, and standard spec includes limited-slip diff and air conditioned cab.
* Cost? £33,750 for the 97hp N9540
Meanwhile, top of the South Korean line of Kioti tractors sold in the UK through Reco and its dealers is the 90hp DX9010. Aside from a couple of concessions – namely electro-hydraulic 4wd engagement and the tractors’ auto pto function, which automatically dis/engages the pto according to linkage height – the Perkins-powered four-cylinder machine is fairly free of electronics, with analogue instrumentation and mechanical linkage controls.
Korean maker which had a presence in the UK for some years and is now pushing up the hp bracket. TYM 1003 model is quite sophisticated as it has electronic linkage and push-buttons for 4wd and diff-lock + a 32 + 32 gearbox and powershuttle. However the relatively modest price means it warrants inclusion
* Cost? £28,840 for the 100hp 1003
So it is possible to find essentially electronic-free tractors from the ‘economy’ and groundscare specialists. But what of the bigger-name manufacturers?
John Deere’s alternative to its full-spec 5R tractors in the 100hp bracket is the 5M series, largest model of which is the turbocharged 5100M. Unlike the commonrail R models, the M tractors feature mechanical fuel injection, while the basic transmission is a four gear, four range SyncReverser, with creeper and two-speed splitter options. As with most other machines of its type, one of the few electronic features is push-button pto engagement.
* Cost? £40,639 for the 102hp 5100M
The 100hp mechanical offering from sister companies Massey Ferguson and Valtra is essentially the same, being based on the latter’s A series machines, and the range topper is known either as the 4455 (MF) or the A92 (Valtra).
Both feature a 101hp-rated SisuDiesel four-cylinder engine and transmission is a basic 12/12 synchromesh, with fully-mechanical or power-assisted shuttle – although with the latter comes electronic instrumentation, so technophobes beware.
Linkage controls are mechanical, and, perhaps unusually, so is pto engagement, carried out via a lever to the left of the dash.
Cost? £37,267 for the 101hp Valtra A92, £38,504 for the 101hp MF4455
Case-IH offers quite a few options around the 100hp mark, but those wanting simplicity above all else will probably be drawn to the 95hp JX95. It comes with a 12/12 synchromesh gearbox as standard, though a further eight creep speeds are on the options list for those looking for a machine to suit veg work, for example.
Up in the cab, there’s not a digital readout in sight, and controls for the linkage are completely mechanical.
Cost? £32,460 for the 95hp JX95
The comparable TD5050 from New Holland is also rated at 95hp, and features a 12/12 or 20/12 SynchroShuttle transmission, depending on whether creep speeds are specified. Pay extra for the creep, and you’ll also get an upgraded spec package into the bargain, including air conditioning. All models get a 540E pto speed alongside the standard 540rpm.
Cost? £31,011 for the 95hp TD5050
For farmers looking specifically for simplicity, Claas offers three spec levels on its Axos range, which has replaced the Renault-derived Celtis line but retains the latter’s distinctive front-hinged doors. Biggest Axos available is the 102hp 340, and like the others it can be had in a basic ‘C’ specification. In this format it features a simple 10/10 or 20/20 synchromesh, mechanical linkage operation, and even mechanical pto engagement.
* Cost? £42,120 for the 102hp 340C
Sitting below the recently-refreshed CX models (now the X60 series) in technology terms, McCormick’s C-Max line is the equivalent of sister brand Landini’s Powerfarm range. The flagship C110 Max – to which the Landini equivalent is the Powerfarm 110 – produces 102hp from a Perkins turbocharged and aftercooled four-pot, and the task of putting that power to the ground falls to a four-speed, three-range gearbox with mechanical synchro-shuttle, with splitter and creep box options. And there’s nothing complicated about the linkage set-up either, with a reassuringly-familiar quadrant to the driver’s right taking care of draft, position and mix.
* Cost? £34,077 for the 102hp McCormick C110 Max, £35,598 for the 102hp Landini Powerfarm DT110
The Deutz-Fahr Agrofarm line is topped by the 99hp Agrofarm 420. While typically gaudy in its in-cab colouring, the tractor is relatively simple in control terms, with a five-speed, four-range synchromesh gearbox and Duospeed splitter option. Shuttle, though, is a clutchless electrohydraulic unit, while under the bonnet is a commonrail turbocharged Deutz four-cylinder engine, so there are a few concessions to today’s technology.
Cost? £41,257 for the 99hp Agrofarm 420, £40,320 for the Same Explorer3 100