Mistral all set to breeze in
Spending £76,000 on a sprayer dictates some serious head-scratching before signing on the dotted line. Andrew Faulkner runs through the decision-making route taken by Nottinghamshire whole-farm contractor C & B Hinchley
WHOOSH! Come February, the mystical Mistral should blast its way through Colin Hinchleys yard in Stanton-on-the-Wolds, Nottinghamshire.
No, the infamous Mediterranean wind is not due to gust violently off course from its native southern France home. This Mistral is, in fact, 6t of Chafer self-propelled sprayer, first seen at the Smithfield 96, and destined for delivery in time for the spring 97 herbicide application campaign.
The Hinchley Mistral is the first production model of the new design and the same machine which appeared on Chafers Earls Court stand. From London it travelled back up north to its Doncaster birthplace for final mods before embarking on the last leg of its journey, the trip down the M1 to Nottinghamshire to join the Hinchley fleet.
Making way for the big Chafer at Stanton is the older of two forward control MB tracs – machines around which the contracting firm has based its 14,000ha/year (35,000-acre) spraying business for the past 10 years.
In theory, the sprayers are budgeted to work for five seasons. But the two current machines, because of their past reliability and low running costs, are now heading into their seventh and ninth years, respectively. Not surprisingly, Mr Hinchley is a big fan of the German power unit.
"Over the years theyve cost us very little, both in downtime and money," he says.
"The machine thats being replaced has just had the one clutch (about £1200), new hydraulic pumps (£2000) and a replacement boom (£5000) three years ago. Admittedly, its now just about had it.
"In reality, weve kept the machines on longer than planned in the hope that a direct replacement would become available. Even now theres talk of a new MB trac, but we just couldnt wait any longer."
Having given up on a MB resurrection, Mr Hinchley has had to look elsewhere. So how did he arrive at the Mistral?
The search started about two years ago. From the outset, being a firm advocate of the MB transmission, Mr Hinchley was keen to stick with mechanical drive. That meant looking at the likes of Claytons Buggi and the Knight Crusader – basically a Buggi in different clothes.
"The Clayton has a lot going for it but, in the end, we decided it was not the machine for us. Tank capacity is too small and, at that time, the machine was still largely an unknown quantity."
Reluctantly, Mr Hinchley then changed tack and decided that perhaps hydrostatic drive was a viable option. Yet if he was going to take that route the machine had to be robust enough, even "over-engineered", to cope with the area and roadwork the firms machines are expected to cover.
Hydrostatics, without doubt, are now the mass market for self-propelled sprayers, so Mr Hinchley had plenty of metal to choose from. The options list reads like a "Whos Who" of the UK sprayer market: Gem, Knight, Sands, Bateman, Househam… it goes on.
"Theyre all good machines, but our needs are somewhat specialist compared with some. We wanted 180hp, big wheel motors, 3500-litre tank capacity, and a machine that was specifically designed to handle liquid fertiliser. Already being agents for Chafer liquid fertiliser, it made sense to stick with them for the hardware."
Understandably, some may say Mr Hinchley has taken a big risk, playing guinea pig and nursemaid to Chafers new baby, the £76,450 Mistral.
"True," he says. "But all the components are well proven. The skid unit uses a Cummins engine, Poclain wheel motors and a John Deere cab, while all spraying equipment is standard Chafer.
"Well also be fitting variable rate application kit to link in with the combines yield mapping equipment. But thats for the future."
Returning from tomorrows technology to today, Hinchley staff are already modifying support equipment to make the most of the yet-to-be-delivered, higher capacity Chafer sprayer.
In the past the firm has run an assortment of water bowsers, but now the plan is to construct a purpose-built mixer unit which should be capable of turning the 3500-litre (770gal) Chafer round in 10-15mins.
Based on a Unimog 1700, the German tractor will shoulder the 2000-litre (440gal) mixer unit on its chassis as well as drag a 15,000-litre (3300gal) water bowser behind. In work, the mixer man will probably brew the chemical in 1000 litres (220gal) of water and then top up the Chafers 3500-litre (770gal) tank from the towed bowser.
All sounds good on paper. How theory translates into practice remains to be seen.
Chafer Mistral self-propelled sprayer (above) joins a seven-year-old, MB trac forward control (below) on the Hinchley fleet from next month. The pre-production Mistral (pictured) is undergoing mods before delivery: Air con rad from under cab to on top of engine cowling; different profile diesel tank; and new joystick in the cabin. Inset: Colin Hinchley.
Mistral operator gets a plush platform, courtesy of John Deere.
• Engine: 180hp Cummins six-cyl.
• Transmission: Hydrostatic, four-wheel drive.
• Wheel motors: Poclain, two-speed.
• Steering: Two-/four-wheel, auto realigning.
• Tank capacity: 3500 litres (770gal).
• Boom: 12/24m (40/80ft), twin lines.
• Pump: 500 litres/min (110gal/min), centrifugal.
• Price: £76,450.
• Work undertaken: Whole farm contracting about 1620ha (4000 acres), specialist spraying and medium square baling.
• Machinery fleet: 285hp Caterpillar Challenger 65B and 205hp Challenger 35 crawlers, five wheeled tractors (100-265hp), three Claas combines, Chafer Mistral and forward control MB trac sprayers, and a JCB 415 wheeled loader.
• Labour: Five full-time machine operators, plus self-employed labour during peak season.