29 October 1999



French farming magazine

La France Agricole put five

big square balers together

in the field to compare ease

of use and performance.

David Cousins was there too

IF youd been at the eastern end of the River Loire near the town of Charentonay this August, you might have seen a multi-hued collection of big square balers all working in one field. The aim of organiser La France Agricole was simple – to put several rival machines together and compare the weight and density of bales produced, the ease of set-up and use and the straightforwardness (or otherwise) of maintenance.

Choice of machines and uniformity of conditions were obviously important factors. All five makers – Case, Claas, Krone, Vicon and Welger – claim to produce a 1.2m wide x 0.7m high bale. The crop of Camp Remy wheat had been harvested a few days before and the weather had been dry for weeks. But thunderstorms were predicted.

Motive power for the test came from a Renault Ares 735, which pulled each baler in turn. After several hours spent sorting out the usual problems of hitches and incompatible hydraulic and electric connections, the machines were ready to roll.

The field was divided both into single swaths and pairs of swaths grouped together to give increased bulk. The first three balers started work on the double swaths at 6.30pm on Aug 3, with the last two waiting until the following morning. Then, on the following afternoon, all the balers took a turn on the single swaths.

Though the tests took place in ideal weather and the moisture content of the straw swaths never rose above 12%, by late afternoon storms had arrived. The result was that the last baler to go – the Krone Big-pack – was only able to finish one of its four bouts before the rain fell.

&#42 Drivers

Tractor-driving duties fell to three people: Antoine Elluin (the owner of the land) and two neighbouring farmers Jean-Louis Veillat and Sebastian Davril. Meanwhile, a technician from each of the baler makers provided technical help throughout the test.

Each farmer drove all five machines. Once a stint was completed, the driver filled in a questionnaire covering the following: Hitching up, getting started, driving impressions, maintenance and safety. At the same time, technicians from the local chamber of agriculture noted the weight and dimensions of every bale made. Marks were awarded and totals totted up as the test progressed.

&#42 Twin-axles and central greasing systems get

the popular vote

The three drivers were unanimous in a number of particular areas. One was that double axle balers gave both driver and machine a smoother ride on road and field than single axle ones. The other was that central greasing systems – whether manual or automatic – did much to ease the maintenance burden. Another conclusion was that compressor-powered knotter cleaning systems were more effective than fan ones.

The drivers own subjective impressions were backed up by objective measurements recorded by a technician sitting in the cab. He recorded the change in engine rpm as the ram went into action as well as the forward speed of the outfit.

&#42 Bale quality

All balers set out to make 2.4m long bales. As each bale was made, its dimensions were noted and weight recorded on a set of electronic weigh cells positioned on one edge of the field. That way, bale densities from different machines could be compared.

Baler choice

Case, Krone, Vicon and Welger provided machines and technicians directly for the test. Balers from John Deere and Deutz-Fahr were not tested because they are manufactured by Krone and Vicon, respectively. Claas, New Holland and MF were invited to take part but were unable to supply a machine. In the case of the Claas, a substitute baler was found in the form of a local contractors machine.


Though the object of the test was to produce bales of 2.4m in length, the company technicians setting up the machines were not always able to hit the spot. As a result, the average bale length was more like 2.55m. Welger was the only company to get close to the target, with an average bale length of 2.46m.

Vicons LB12000 produced the heaviest and densest bales of the five. No surprise, then that it also prompted the biggest dips in the engine rpm of the pulling tractor and achieved the lowest forward speeds.

The Claas had a few knotter problems on the double swaths and had to stop several times to have adjustments made. The Krone was caught by the rainstorm and was only able to bale one its four single swaths (see graphs). The bales from this bout took on extra moisture and so were excluded from the weights and measures figures.

The Case proved a rapid performer, especially on the single swaths, with a forward speed of 11.6kph (7.2mph). That was about 1kph (0.6mph) more than the other balers.

The Welger D6000 produced the smallest drop in tractor engine revs each time its ram went into action – 80rpm compared to the Vicons 160rpm.


The 540 joined Case-IHs baler line-up two years ago after the purchase of Mengele. It did not score too highly for uniformity of bale density with an often sizeable difference between individual bales. On the other hand, it was ahead of the

pack when it came to

forward speed.

The 540s modest use of string was a good point, agreed the testers. It was the only machine of the five to use five strings to tie the bale rather than the usual six and there was no discernible drop in the quality of tying. However, it fared less well in the comfort stakes, with drivers being on the receiving end of rather more vibration than with

some machines.

But it was the quietest of the five machines, with noise from the baler more than

blotted out by that from the tractor engine. And all three drivers liked the bogie axle, which improved ride and manoeuvrability.

On the minus side, the

operators agreed that it was a pity that the baler control box on this French version

(mounted in the tractor cab) came with German markings only. Moreover, though most

of the information provided by the monitor came in graphic form, there were still enough german words to cause gallic consternation. It is a point that the manufacturer will no doubt deal with at some time in the near future…


Type of axle: Bogie.

Pick-up width: 2.18m.

Ram strokes/min: 38.

Number of knotters: Five.

Knotter cleaning: Two fans.


The Claas baler was the only one of the five not to be

supplied direct from the

manufacturer. It was loaned by local contractor Marcel Muzard and had just finished its second season.

The test did not get off to a good start. A shear-bolt failed, and replacement was a fairly involved task on this machine. Then, in the double swaths, one-quarter of the bales were not tied properly. This, it emerged, was due to wear in the knotters, and can no doubt be blamed on hard use of this particular machine.

When it came to bale density, the Quadrant slotted in slightly below the five-baler average and bale length was a bit

variable. Again, the latter may very likely be due to wear on this particular machine rather than any inherent problem on these machines. It was one

of the noiser models of the group too.

The Quadrant had a number of strengths. All three drivers liked the ease with which the machine could be set-up and maintained. Hitching up, twine set-up and adjustment of

the length and density of

the bale were all

straightforward to do.

The presence of a hydraulic drawbar squat was good, though the fact that it is

operated by the same spool valve as the pick-up could cause the odd problem.

A plus point too, for the

central greasing system.


Axle type: Tandem.

Pick-up width: 2.1m.

Ram strokes/min: 50.

Number of knotters: Six.

Knotter cleaning: Compressor.


By the time the two days of the test were over, the drivers were unanimous: If they had to buy one of the five balers, it would be the Big Pack. Their choice has as much to do with the comfortable drive and the easy adjustment of this model than the performance of the machine and the uniformity of bales produced.

The 120.70 isnt due to start its first full production season until next summer. Of all five balers it had the toughest conditions to contend with. On the first day it worked on the double swaths without the benefit of a factory technician to set it up. On the single swaths its progress was interrupted by the rainstorm. Even if its bale densities were below the five-machine average – though the bales were all above 320kg – the drivers largely voted for the machine with their hearts.

Comments from the drivers on the ease of use of the Big Pack centred on the fact that it was easier to pull and that the

gearbox clutch and cams that replace the usual shear bolt worked well. If an over-large wedge of straw threatens to give the machine indigestion, just easing off on the pto revs lets it get back into its stride again.

The control unit was one of the simpler and most comprehensive ones. However, one gripe was that the siting of the rolls of twine was too high and that drivers of smaller stature would probably need a stepladder to reach them.


Axle type: Tandem.

Pick-up width: 2.3m.

Ram strokes/min: 38.

Number of knotters: Six.

Knotter cleaning: Compressor.


When it came to bale density, the LB12000 was top of the pile. On the double swaths, all the Vicons bales exceeded 350kg and the technicians from the French equivalent of ADAS who were present commented on the good-looking bales that it made.

On the other hand, the Vicon prompted the biggest drops in tractor revs, with a 160rpm fall each time the ram closed on the double swaths. At the same time its forward speed on these denser swaths was the lowest of the five machines.

At the end of the test it was also clear that the Vicon was more vibration-prone than some and seemed one of the more horsepower-hungry of the machines present. But set against that has to be the fact that the pick-up pulls in straw well and was never a limiting factor on performance.

Some things could be improved, agreed the testers. One was the relatively sharp angle of the rearmost of the two shafts that take drive from the tractor pto to the baler. Not only did it look awkward, they said, but it obscured the view of the

pick-up. Another was the

all-metal pick-up guide wheel, which they didnt all warm too.

Back on the list of plus points, the drivers all liked the tandem axles and agreed that this option gave the smoothest ride for the baler and was worth the extra cost. The steering axle of the Vicon showed advantages at bout-ends by significantly

reducing the turning circle of the whole set-up.


Axle type: Steering tandem.

Pick-up width: 1.98m.

Ram strokes/min: 46.

Number of knotters: Six.

Knotter cleaning: Three two-way fans.


Welgers big square baler was the only one in this test to be running on a single axle. It was also the least demanding of tractor power; the tractor engines without-load 2300rpm being pulled down by just 80rpm (on the double swaths) when the ram goes into action. Thats rather less than the 140-160rpm drop experienced with some of the other balers in this test.

Bales produced by the Welger were among the most regular of the test and achieved the second highest density level.

The drivers commented that the Welger seemed a bit

limited by its pick-up, and that sparse swaths might need to be compacted to produce a

regular bale.

On the other hand, the three drivers liked the safety

features that came as

standard with this baler. For example, an electrical contact on the access steps at the back of the machine cuts the pto as soon as someone stands on it – avoiding

potential accidents with

working knotters.

Equally, a removable plate underneath the feeder

mechanism gave a welcome chance to pull out straw in case of a bung-up.

The control box is very easy to use but didnt have enough functions for our testers tastes. Magnetic backing usefully allowed it to fix to baler when unhitched from the tractor.


Axle type: Single.

Pick-up width: 2.1m.

Ram strokes/min: 64.

Number of knotters: Six.

Knotter cleaning: Three fans.

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