Backwards is the best way to go forwards…
Staying one step ahead of a high capacity forage harvester requires a mowing outfit with capacity to spare. Geoff Ashcroft reports on a Somerset contractor who operates a triple mower linked to a reverse drive MF8150 – the first in the UK.
"KEEPING a 450hp forager working flat out is not going to be achieved by relying on the output of a 9ft mower conditioner," says Robert Targett. "We use a 180hp MF8150 adapted for reverse drive, linked to a Claas 8.1m (26.5ft) wide triple mower."
Working at only 4.5mph, mowing output has reached 50ha (125 acres) a day with the three swaths created left ready to be rowed up in front of the forager.
First-cut grass crops in the Castle Cary area of Somerset are seldom thin. Although good news for R * & E N Targett and Sons contracting business run from Higher Dimmer Farm, Castle Cary, its a logistical headache when it comes to keeping the forager working to capacity.
Over the years, brothers Robert and Colin have toiled with achieving adequate mowing capacity to suit their silage making operation. Their first serious attack was a farm-built self-propelled unit based on an MF combine chassis.
"It had three mowers in place of the header and spanned 22ft," explains Robert Targett. Visibility was good and it was easy to use, but the mowers werent up to much."
After two seasons, it was back to a front/rear combination which gave 5.5m (18ft) mowing width. And used latterly on an MF3690 (which had been tweaked up to 200hp) could only just cope with the 1000ha (2500 acres) workload.
So, why choose reverse drive?
"Our home-built self-propelled mower taught us a lot about driving position, so it seemed sensible to sit behind the mowers and look in only one direction, instead of watching over your shoulder," he adds. "And using a front-mounted mower tended to cause regular radiator blockages when cutting dry, fluffy grass.
"The only way to progress was to go with a reverse drive tractor."
The £5000 conversion was carried out by one of MFs French distributors, who relocated the diesel tank, cut a new footwell in the back of the cab for the reverse drive pedals, and fitted a secondary steering column which also carries the necessary switch gear for Dynashift transmission and rear linkage control.
"Its a tidy combination that has the capacity to keep well ahead of the forager," comments Robert Targett. "Visibility is good and with the Dynashift control on the reverse drive steering column, we can make good progress in the field. A quick twist of the seat, refit the steering wheel on the front steering column, and were off down the road like any other tractor."
But its not all smiles. There are a few gripes which will be addressed as the season progresses.
Mr Targett reckons theres a lack of fuel capacity – a problem caused by the conversion which means a smaller tank is fitted between the front and rear wheels of the tractor, though a larger secondary fuel tank is planned. The other problem is poor drivebelt tensioning on the centre mower.
"Weve burnt a few belts off already. I think its because the centre mower makes a full cut and works harder," he says. "The outer two mowers have an easier time because they overlap the middle section and make a narrower swath."
Overall though, Mr Targett is pleased with the performance of the combination – if only because it means his forager is fully employed.n
The Targetts mower combination in full flight – 4.5mph forward speed equates to about 120 acres/day. Reverse drive conversion means diesel tank is now fitted between front and rear wheels – capacity is reduced, though.
• 180hp MF8150 with reverse drive conversion and 8.1m wide Claas Corto 8100 triple mower (120 acres/day at 4.5mph).
• Kuhn 7.3m rake.
• 450hp New Holland FX450 self-propelled forager.
• Three 12 tonne silage trailers.
• JCB 414 Farm Master with front and rear dual wheels.
• Workload: 1000ha grass silage from three cuts; 500ha maize.
Robert Targett is pleased with the mowing capacity of his 180hp/8.1m wide combination despite burning a few belts off centre mower.