PLOUGH CAN BE BIG ADVANTAGE
It looks good on paper, but
what are the practical
advantages of having
electronic controls on a
plough? To find out,
Peter Hill asked a user
who is convinced they
have benefits to offer
AS ploughs have become bigger and operators used to ever more sophisticated fingertip controls in tractor cabs, so fancy control systems have migrated to the humble mouldboard plough.
The "DEC" facility on the five- to seven-furrow 180-Series Delta-Furra semi-mounted implement was developed by Dowdeswell Engineering in conjunction with electronics and hydraulics specialists.
It includes a timer-regulated sequence for headland manoeuvres to ease the operators workload, together with a steering system for the depth/transport wheel that gets the plough round in smarter fashion and allows narrower headlands.
And, says the Warks-based company, it improves work rate through the course of a season by making it easier and less tiring for operators to use the plough.
Arable farmer Charles Stops helped with the original development programme and has run his own 180-Series for the past four years.
It is difficult to make comparisons without running implements side by side, he acknowledges. But he is convinced he would not want to be without power-operated controls.
"Using the system under manual control for ploughing headlands or working around obstacles reminds you how many control movements are needed," he says. "It takes more time and effort to use the plough manually because, it is more difficult to get the sequence just right every time."
One of the challenges for the designers was to produce an economical valve block that could direct oil to where it is needed for each operation within the headland turn procedure. Not to mention an electronics package simple enough to set up, but sophisticated enough to run the sequence and react to faults.
The "DEC" system is programmed much like a robot welder, simply by performing the required movements (in this case, those required for a headland turn) under manual control, then prompting it to "memorise" all movements.
With the control system then switched to "auto", the sequence is triggered by the operator raising the tractor linkage arms.
First, the back of the plough is lifted after the appropriate distance has been travelled – this is measured by a sensor on the land wheel – with the wheel then steering automatically to match the angle of the headstock pivot. The plough is closed from its extended working position, rolled over, then opened to the working position again.
At this point, the system waits until the "auto" button is pressed again. This makes allowance for any variation in the time taken to steer the tractor and implement round ready to head back into work. This time, the work entry sequence is activated, which amounts to lowering the back of the plough after the programmed time delay.
The 180-Series Delta Furra has clocked up more than 1520ha (3750 acres) of ploughing at The Paddocks Farm, Kibworth, Leics, over the past four years.
Easy to use
"We were looking for a larger plough and, at seven furrows, decided semi-mounted was the way to go to minimise stresses and strains on the tractor," says Mr Stops. "The electronic control system was part of the package and does a really good job."
Initially run behind a John Deere 7800, the latest combination – plough plus John Deere 8200 – makes a better, more stable outfit, probably because of the tractors longer wheel-base and more favourable weight distribution, Mr Stops believes.
"We plough on-land whenever possible to keep compaction to a minimum, and only drop into the furrow if it is very wet and we are short of traction," he says. "Being able to set the plough from the drivers seat saves messing about."
Although "T" turns produce the narrowest headlands, "P" turns are a bit quicker, he reckons, and make best use of the ploughs automatic sequence because this includes steering the rear-mounted depth/transport wheel to the same angle as the headstock pivot.
Now that the plough is available without its clever electronic control system, the inevitable question is whether the £2500 list price saving would tempt Mr Stops were he to replace the implement.
"That is difficult to say; it is a fair lump of money," he says. "It would depend on the deal, but now we have experienced it, I certainly would not want to be without it." *
Charles Stops: "We plough on-land whenever possible to keep compaction to a minimum."
Right: In-cab brains for the electronic sequencing system.
Round she comes – electronic control
automatically steers the depth/transport
wheel to match headstock pivot angle.
And back into work – it is a long plough, but carrying a seven-furrow implement puts unnecessary stresses and strains on the tractor, says Charles Stops. Note the almost level headland edge which can be achieved.