When one large farming business invested in a flagship Massey Ferguson MF 8737, it was given plenty of work in diverse cropping at two separate locations. CPM finds out how it got on.

There’s plenty of grunt when you need it.

By Mick Roberts

Sitting at the top of a fleet of nearly 20 tractors owned by E.C. Drummond Agriculture, a Massey Ferguson MF 8737 earns its keep first planting potatoes in Herefordshire before moving south to continue working in Hants.

E.C. Drummond Agriculture is a family owned business that runs four main divisions – potatoes, arable, fruit and poultry – at various sites in the UK. The main arable and root crops are grown either from its base at The Homme, Ross on Wye, Heref or at the Manydown Estate, near Basingstoke in Hants.

Ben (left) and Eric Drummond with two from the fleet of MF tractors used across the large and diverse farming business.

Ben (left) and Eric Drummond with two from the fleet of MF tractors used across the large and diverse farming business.

The farm is a truly diverse enterprise, which grows a range of arable crops, potatoes, sugar beet, maize, soft fruit and cider apples. It also has 2.4 million chickens at sites in Heref, Glos, Worcs, Norfolk and Suffolk. The busy and varied work employs 60 full time staff and 350 seasonal workers.


The management strategy is fairly clear. While other farming businesses may specialise in one area of production, E.C. Drummond Agriculture has decided it’s still very important to have a diverse range of crops and enterprises.


At the same time, it aims to be in the upper quartile of whatever it does and ensure each enterprise has the correct level of dedicated management and investment to make it a success.


That continuing investment includes new renewable energy facilities, construction of reservoirs to secure the farm’s water supply for the future, as well as production systems for the soft fruit.

Phil Thompson (left) and operator Graham Prosser (right) are pleased with the tractor’s performance, comfort and reliability.

Phil Thompson (left) and operator Graham Prosser (right) are pleased with the tractor’s performance, comfort and reliability.


At its Heref base, the farming operation’s cropping includes 1000ha, grown on its own land, and on Farm Business Tenancy (FBT) and contract. This land, in the Wye Valley, supports 640ha of combinable crops – wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley – as well as 280ha of potatoes, 50ha of strawberries and 30ha of cider apples.


In 2009 the company took the opportunity to contract farm the Manydown Estate, near Basingstoke in Hants. Here the farmed area has now expanded to 2250ha with further land being taken on both a management and FBT basis. Cropping here is made up of wheat, OSR and grass seeds. In addition to this, rye, grass, maize and sugar beet are grown to feed a local anaerobic digestion plant.


Unsurprisingly, this workload calls for a wide range of equipment. The majority of tractors are Massey Fergusons, which as well as the MF 8737 also include a 7726, six MF 7720s, an MF 7840 and five other four-cylinder MF 5455 and MF 5612 models, as well as a Fendt 936 Vario and a Fendt 210F, which works in the fruit crops.


This line-up was supplied by the local Agco dealer, Ross Farm Machinery, which as well as selling Massey Ferguson and Fendt tractors also holds franchises for Challenger as well as JCB handlers.


It’s here the business turned to when looking for the new mainline tractor. But the decision to buy the MF 8737 can be traced back ten years, to 2006 when the farm was running another brand with powershift transmissions.


“We decided to move to continuously variable transmissions, which are particularly suited for potato planting and harvesting,” explains Ben Drummond. “Although this didn’t necessarily also mean a change of colour, we took the opportunity to look at what the main suppliers had to offer.


“After demonstrations of a number of brands, we decided to go for the MF 7485 Dyna-VT. We felt it offered the smoothest CVT and provided the power we needed, too. Later, in 2008, when we moved up to a three-row bed tiller, we needed a 300hp tractor, and at that time we decided to go for a Fendt.”


When the business took on the Hants farm, three years later, it inherited a range of John Deere and New Holland tractors. As these came up for replacement, they were swapped in for new Massey Fergusons with Ross Farm Machinery, however as the dealer is 125 miles away, they arranged for the local branch of Lister Wilder to look after the tractors.


The Hants farm now has three MF 7720s and a hired tractor at its disposal. The John Deere 8530 remained as the prime mover in Hants, but was also moved up to Ross on Wye to operate a bed tiller.


“We like to get the planting done in six weeks and then move the tractor back again – it works well,” explains Ben Drummond. “So when we looked for a replacement for the JD 8530, our brief was to find a tractor that best handled the bed tilling in the spring and was capable of rapidly cultivating and planting in Hants.


“During the past ten years we’ve had many Massey Ferguson CVT tractors and we couldn’t fault the transmission or the Sisu diesel engines. So why wouldn’t we consider the 370hp flagship, MF 8737?”


Ross Farm Machinery set up a demonstration, the farm was happy with its performance, confirmed the order and it arrived in time to start bed tilling in March.


“The Dyna-VT transmission is ‘perfect’ – it’s so smooth. We also like the idea of a ‘European-built’ tractor, which is compact and light, and offers good manoeuvrability. The three-point linkage, hydraulics and pick-up hitch are also more suited to our operations than a typical American-built tractor,” he explains.


Both farms are on relatively light land and they both now operate 6m wide Claydon, strip till drills. These were bought to not only reduce establishment costs, but also improve the soil structure.


Both the drills and the bed tillers are fully mounted, but handled easily by the linkage’s 12t lift capacity. This also increases the importance of the tractor’s ability to shed and gain weight to suit operations, says Ben Drummond.


“The tractor weighs less than 11t, but has the capacity to carry heavy loads and can handle either the mounted implements or you can ballast it with external wheel weights and a front block for draft work,” he adds.


Nearly 90% of the potato planting is carried out without destoning, which not only reduces costs, but also helps protect the soil structure. To keep equipment on track the farm uses RTK GPS positioning for automatic steering. “Five years ago we equipped all the mainline tractors with Topcon terminals, with the RTK correction signal received via mobile data SIM cards,” says Ben Drummond.


“It did work, but the signal wasn’t reliable and it was annoying when you lost it. So when we ordered the MF 8737, we specced it with a mobile RTK base station as well as factory-fitted receiver. The signal’s now perfect and we’ve been able to cut the clutter in the cab by using the tractor’s own Datatronic 4 screen to display the Autoguide steering,” he says.


When the tractor goes to Hants it reverts back to using the RTK SIM card for drilling, because the signal in the area is stronger and more reliable than it is in Heref. The base station remains at Ross on Wye and is also used for drilling.


Farm Foreman, Phil Thompson, says during potato planting the MF 8737 was a ‘top performer’. “It can really put down its power and outperforms both the John Deere 8530 and Fendt 936, yet surprisingly, it’s no thirstier than the Fendt but, perhaps unsurprisingly, drinks less than the Deere,” he adds.


The farm specified standard 710/75 x 42 tyres because they felt this option gave them the flexibility to plough in the furrow and bed till in ridges. They’re also large enough to spread the weight when drilling and retain the manoeuvrability.


“The Sisu engine is a ‘proper powerhouse’,” adds Phil Thompson. “And there’s no diesel particulate filter (DPF) and we like that. Quite apart from the costs and maintenance, there’s none of that ‘regen’ business. You can almost feel the engine saving fuel as the electronics automatically govern the engine in relation to the forward speed.


“Also the maximum power is at PTO speed and that’s ideal for bed tilling. Although the 370hp is well on top of the job, the electronic boost to 400hp does help. The flat power curve also gives us the performance for cultivating and drilling,” he explains.


Operator, Graham Prosser, says the MF 8737 is a ‘really nice tractor to operate’. “The cab is quiet, uncluttered and ‘wide open’, with great all round visibility and the back window opens fully,” he comments.


The headland management system, he adds, is easy to use and he likes the way it also includes the Autoguide steering operation. “It’s a nimble tractor, made even more so with the help of the SpeedSteer system, which cuts the number of steering wheel turns you have to make when turning at the headlands. And the joystick control makes it easy to operate,” he says.


Graham Prosser also appreciates the comfort, which he puts down to the amount of travel on the front axle suspension as well as the four-point hydraulic system for the cab. All the operators like this, he adds.


The engine provides plenty of power, he continues: “There’s plenty of grunt when you need it and I like the true CVT transmission, which pulls away from a standstill without any wheelslip and the cruise control certainly helps improve the consistency of the work.”


For Ben Drummond the equipment reliability is one of his most important considerations. “With the large area of potatoes in the cropping it means we’re exceptionally busy, we definitely don’t want any downtime. The MF 8737 has clocked up more than 1000 hours and, apart from a minor oil weep, hasn’t given us a minute of trouble.


“But we’re very relaxed about the possibility of any problems we may encounter. Based on past experience with Ross Farm Machinery and Lister Wilder, we know it’ll be dealt with swiftly,” he says,


The farm endeavours to keep the tractors for 4500 hours and cover their life on the farm with warranty, buying the MF 8737 with Massey Ferguson’s ‘Manager’ extended warranty. “It’s not too costly to extend this. But, more importantly, it’s an all-inclusive package, in the past we’ve had some bad experiences with other brands, finding that their ‘extended warranties’ were riddled with exceptions and excesses,” he explains.

Farm Facts

E.C. Drummond Agriculture

Homme Farm, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire

  • Farm size: 1000ha
  • Soil type: sandy loam
  • Cropping: wheat, oilseed rape, spring barley, potatoes, strawberries, cider apples
  • Mainline tractors: Massey Ferguson 8737 (shared with Hants farm), MF 7726, 3x MF 7720, MF 7480, 5x MF 4cyl tractors (MF 5455/5612); Fendt 936 Vario, Fendt 210F (specialist fruit tractor); plus two hired tractors in summer
  • Combine: New Holland CR 980
  • Handler: 2x JCB 536-70 Loadalls
  • Drill: Claydon 6m Hybrid
  • Cultivators: 4m Simba SL; 8m rolls


Manydown Estate, Hants

  • Size: 2250ha
  • Soil type: Chalk loams
  • Mainline tractors: MF 8737 (shared with Heref farm), 3x MF 7720, John Deere 8530; plus one hired in summer
  • Sprayer: 36m trailed Horsch Leeb with 5000-litre tank
  • Combine: 2x New Holland CR 980
  • Handlers: 2x JCB 536-70 Loadalls
  • Drills: 6m Claydon Hybrid; Horsch CO6
  • Cultivators: 6m Köckerling; 12m rolls
Ben (left) and Eric Drummond with two from the fleet of MF tractors used across the large and diverse farming business.

Ben (left) and Eric Drummond with two from the fleet of MF tractors used across the large and diverse farming business.