Little artic-steer loaders are still the number-one choice for thousands of livestock farmers up and down the country, but with some big names dropping out of the market over the past decade, there has been a dearth of choice when it comes to replacing the old guard.
Wind back the clock 10 years and John Deere was still in the game with its Matbro-derived machines, while Manitou was building its popular Maniscopic MLA up until 2012.
But with those two big players now in pivot-steer retirement, the choice has been pretty limited. JCB’s TM is the obvious mainstream candidate, with the only competition coming from lesser-known brands such as Weidemann or Schaffer.
However, in the past year two new machines have joined the fold to add a bit more competition. From Italy there is Dieci’s line-up of AgriPivot T-series machines, while Northern Irish firm NC Engineering has made its load-lifting debut with the FH225.
We got our hands on Dieci’s current range-topper – the T70 with a 3t lift up to 5m. On paper it out-muscles the modest credentials of the NC, which lifts 2.4t and stretches to 4.7m, but they are both the largest machines offered by their respective companies right now.
The thing that really sets these two machines apart is transmission choice. Dieci opts for hydrostatic drive, while NC goes down the traditional pivot-steer route with a combination of torque converter and clutch packs.
The first machines built at the Armagh factory in Northern Ireland had a 4F x 4R JCB/ITL powershift box, but it was all change 12 months into the production run when it was switched to a 6F x 3R Dana Spicer unit.
The time-proven transmission has more than enough smooth-shifting ratio options, but it is not quite so slick when shuttling.
With the transmission warmed up, a delay starts to develop before it jolts from forwards to reverse. Inevitably this will be something than can be solved with software tweaks, but NC says it is deliberate.
Only allowing the drive to engage once the machine has come to a standstill saves on tyre wear and abuse to the gearbox, but unfortunately it does driver comfort no favours.
In contrast the Dieci’s two-range Sauer Danfoss hydrostat is super smooth, though it can feel a little lethargic at times.
Like the NC, the shuttle is replicated on the joystick and column lever, which has a two-position twist grip. This is said to alter the swash-plate angle to affect gearbox responsiveness, but in practice we found little noticeable difference.
Changing between the Dieci’s ranges is also a faff that requires both shuttles to be in neutral and the brake pushed right to the floor. Only then can you hit a rocker switch to shift between hare and tortoise modes.
On paper: NC FH225-S v Dieci Agri-Pivot T70
Dieci Agri-Pivot T70
|Engine||3.6-litre, four-cyl Deutz||3.8-litre, four-cyl Kubota|
|Transmission||6Fx3R Dana Spicer powershift||Two-range Sauer Danfoss hydrostatic|
|Hydraulics||91 litres/min@250bar load sensing||114 litres/min @ 230bar fixed displacement|
|Standard tyres||405/70 R20||405/70 R24|
Four cylinders are the order of the day in the engine department. The Dieci’s power is produced by a Kubota-sourced 3.8-litre oil-burner that, at 115hp, gives it a slight edge on paper over the 100hp NC.
However, it’s the latter’s 3.6-litre Deutz that feels the peppier of the two. That’s partly down to the Dieci’s extra bulk, but also the result of its power-sapping hydrostatic transmission.
It is most noticeable when pulling away, where we managed to stall the T70 several times during our test. Once up and running, performance was stronger, though revs do have a tendency to drop off more readily than with the NC when heading uphill on the road.
The Northern Irish machine had enough power mucking out heavily trodden FYM, even running in the top working gear (4th). There was rarely a need to drop down a cog, but the obvious downside is its shortage of weight and traction on the slippery stuff. Despite limited slip diffs in both axles, the lack of bulk means it can’t hold grip when all four tyres start to skate.
The Deutz dash display in the NC’s cabin is comprehensive in showing all manner of info, from fuel consumption to battery voltage on virtual dials, but the Dieci’s old-school analogue gauges are easier to read.
There’s no doubt that NC’s office space is also the smaller of the two, but it is easier to access and the painted steel finish should stand up to farm life better than the flappy plastic cladding around the Dieci.
Up in the cab it is worth mentioning noise – since switching from the JCB/ITL transmission to the Dana Spicer-sourced set-up, noise levels in the NC have apparently climbed. The company is working on fitting more cladding along the base of the cab.
While the trained ear might notice a difference, on our two-day test we didn’t find it to be an issue. The door is inevitably left open most of the time anyway, and it can’t have a louder bark than that of the old Matbro Teleram.
Both machines use familiar joysticks – the NC’s will be home-from-home for anyone with a JCB pivot, while Dieci’s is a carbon copy of the Claas Scorpion control system.
Dieci definitely takes top spot when comparing the two. It mounts the second shuttle on a thumb roller, which feels a more natural position than NC’s trigger switch.
Boom controls are also better placed on the Dieci, and it comes with a dedicated decompression system on a switch in the roof lining.
That said, you can achieve the same thing on the NC by switching off the engine and activating the controls.
The other major difference is the transmission dump. While Dieci does it via a left-sided foot pedal, NC uses a button on the base of the joystick, though it can be set to activate with the brake pedal by flicking a rocker switch.
Likes and gripes
|NC FH225-S||Dieci Agri-Pivot T70|
On the road
It is fair to say neither of these machines is a joy on the road – that is partly down to comfort (both could do with softer boom suspension), but in the Dieci’s case it is a lack of transmission braking that can make things a bit buttock-clenching at 40kph.
It is made worse by the fact that the brake pedal can travel right to the floor before it has any effect. We much prefer the torque-converter box and the more active anchors of the NC, and if you are really out of control, a rapid downshift soon slows things up.
Farmers Weekly verdict
Both NC and Dieci have put together worthy rivals to JCB’s TM range, but it is going to take a lot to elbow out the British brand from its pivot-steer strongholds across the South West and Wales.
Of the two we would pick the NC, mainly because of the powershift transmission and superior manoeuvrability. The only stumbling block is the size – it is the biggest machine the company makes, so if you are after more reach or lift capacity, you will have to look elsewhere.
Farm Handling Experience
After the success of the national Farm Handling Experience in April, Farmers Weekly is running another machinery handling event, this time in the South West.
The event is on Wednesday 9 December at Frogmary Green Farm in Somerset from 9am-4pm.
The Farm Handling Experience is unique as it gives farmers the opportunity to get their hands on the kit and try it out for themselves.
Manufacturers who exhibited in April included JCB, Merlo and New Holland.
Find out more details and get tickets on the Farm Handling Event website.