A change in cropping prompted a large Dorset farm to also reconsider its tractor choice and a move from a focus on heavy, draft work capabilities to a lighter, more versatile machine. CPM reports.

The lighter, powerful Fendt offered the flexibility we needed.

By Mick Roberts

The tractor fleet at Woodsford Farms, near Dorchester in Dorset has, until recently, developed along the same lines as most large, progressive arable units by using higher powered machines to pull wider implements to increase workrates.

Woodsford Farms’ total farmed area is 1876ha, of which 1507ha is cropped, and is made up of five blocks of land, 1017ha owned, with a further 490ha contracted farmed. The whole farming operation is run under a management agreement between Velcourt and Woodsford Farm Partners. This means while the farm owns some equipment, including the combines, loaders and sprayer, it can also take advantage of Velcourt’s contract hire arrangement with Case IH.


Indeed, the farm has taken this route for a number of years, contract hiring eight Case IH Magnums in succession, the most recent being a 340 model. These were delivering the power and traction required for high outputs with the farm’s large cultivation equipment and 6m Väderstad Rapid drill.

Cropping changes

The Magnum 340 was just what was needed for the wide cultivator fleet, which includes a Watkins five-leg subsoiler, 5m Simba SL, 6.6m Simba UniPress, 7f Kverneland plough and 6.5m Väderstad Carrier, says its operator and farm foreman, Mark Baker.


“But with the changes to the cropping, which is going to include more maize and grassland, as well as the need to use other, lighter implements, we required a tractor that delivered more than just outright pulling power,” he explains.


So with the two-year Magnum’s contract hire period coming to a close last year, they began looking at the options.

Mark Baker says the lighter, more compact Fendt is delivering on its promise to provide more versatility.

Mark Baker says the lighter, more compact Fendt is delivering on its promise to provide more versatility.

“One of the reasons the Magnum is so good at pulling these implements is because it’s quite heavy,” says Mark Baker. “But that’s also a disadvantage when we’re looking to use the tractor for other, more varied applications. We were concerned that while the Magnum is a very good cultivation and drilling tractor, it was getting to a stage where there was danger that was all it was doing; and then it was stood up for too long.”


The farm looked at the alternatives, including the equivalent John Deere and another wheeled Magnum, having discounted the Rowtrac, half-track option as being even more inflexible. “But the difficulty remains that it weighs 13.4t. This does include the wheel weights – but these are mounted inside the wheels and, as well as being difficult to remove, dealers don’t recommend running without them. What we wanted was a lighter tractor, which could be ballasted up as and when required.”


Then they looked at a Fendt 390 Vario from local dealer Redlynch Tractors. Mark Baker hadn’t driven a Fendt for more than ten years and was, he admits, very surprised by what he saw. “The cab is much, much better than before. Previously I felt they didn’t offer the same comfort or specification compared with the leather-seated luxury of my Magnum. But I was immediately impressed by the latest cab.


A powerful three-point linkage handles heavy implements with ease, which includes a heavy-duty hydraulic top-link option.

A powerful three-point linkage handles heavy implements with ease, which includes a heavy-duty hydraulic top-link option.

“But, cab apart, it’s just so much more compact compared with the other, heavy draft tractors we were looking at. It weighs just 11t, but can be ballasted up with a 2500kg block on the front linkage and 1000kg of weights on each of the wheels.


“It also delivers a maximum power of 390hp, without any boost. So it’s actual power to weight ratio is very good. We could see that, with the ease of adding and removing ballast, plus the VarioGrip tyre inflation option, the lighter, powerful Fendt offered the flexibility we needed,” he explains.


The farm’s partners agreed to purchase the tractor and in the ten months it has been at work on the farm it has already clocked up 2400hrs on a range of work. This figure is about 500hr – 700hr more than the Magnum covered in the same period, which also shows the Fendt is already living up to its promise to deliver more flexibility, explains Mark Baker.


“For example, today it’s being used to pull down a spring seedbed with the 6m wide Väderstad NZ cultivator, which is working at quite a shallow depth. Previously, it’s unlikely I would have used the Magnum to pull this machine,” he comments.


Fendt’s VarioGrip is an option he says that’s also proving its worth in terms of both increasing traction and reducing compaction. Controlled from the tractor’s Varioterminal, the integral tyre inflation system allows him to adjust the pressure from the screen. Having selected the tyre type and size all he does is select the desired pressure for each and the system inflates or deflates the tyres to suit.


“I think the system makes the tractor even more versatile – I’ve used it twice already today,” he remarks. “I can often be doing four different jobs in one day – from light cultivation to roadwork back to a heavy cultivator or a drill. It takes about 15mins to add about 1 bar pressure to all four tyres, which can be done on the move.


“The field pressure varies depending on the work. We’ll run across field and then visibly check the wheelings and, sometimes, use a spade to check for compaction. But, in general, I’ll use about 1.1 bar for the Simba SL, or 0.9 to 0.8bar on the sandier soils. While on trailers it could be at 1.9 bar on the back and 1.6 bar on the front.


“I usually have two pre-set pressures for each task, but I feel it could do with more. I would also really like the pressures to be stored in the machine settings, which are saved in the memory for the set-up and headland management for the individual implements,” he comments.


Changing the ballast to suit the job is now also an easy task that, he says, takes just ten minutes. The front weight block is quickly and easily dropped on or off the front linkage, while the farm has made its own carrier/adaptor for the wheel weights. This makes it much easier to fit these with a loader, although they did have to slightly modify the VarioGrip guard to facilitate fitting the wheel weights – which is an unusual omission from Fendt.


The dealer suggested fitting Trelleborg TM 900 tyres, which is another first for Mark Baker, who has always preferred Michelins. The taller, 710/75 R 42s on the rear he notices put three treads on the ground, which he adds improves traction and he feels is another benefit of being able to set the right pressure for the job. And with the right pressure on the road as well, he thinks the tyres are lasting longer, too.


“Previously, without the on-board pressure system we would adjust the pressures for some jobs. But often we would set a good compromise on a pressure that was OK for the field and the road,” he explains.


He is obviously impressed with the Fendt’s versatility and this regard extends to other aspects of the tractor. The 390hp maximum power from the engine, he comments, is much the same output as the 389hp delivered by the Magnum on maximum boost, but he says it feels more powerful – “this may be down to the twin turbos,” he wonders.


The TMS – Tractor Management System – is used for virtually all jobs. This links the engine to the transmission and automatically adjusts both to match the speed and workload. “It works really well – when you need more power it opens up the throttle automatically, but at other times you feel the revs shutting down. On a light cultivator, like the NZ, the tractor’s usually working at only 1250rprm,” he explains.

Fuel saving

This, he reckons, is definitely helping to save fuel. When working on slopes with a powershift transmission the tractor was always in the same gear and rpm both going up the hill and down. “But with TMS it’s obvious the tractor reacts quickly to the changing load,” he says.


So far the Fendt 390 Vario has consumed a total of 37,000 litres of fuel in its 2400 hrs of work – resulting in an average consumption of 15.4 litres/hr across all its varied jobs.


“That’s a significant saving. It’s not so important at today’s lower prices, but if the cost of diesel went back to its previous highs it would make a considerable difference,” he remarks.


The Vario transmission also plays it part in improving efficiency, he adds. By setting the speed independently of the engine revs and with TMS, the tractor works at the optimum setting for the load.


“I hadn’t used a continuously variable transmission before, but it’s part of the package with the Fendt, and admit at first I found the Vario took some getting used to! But now I’m becoming more familiar with its operation, I think it works really well. I particularly like the two cruise-control settings, how easy it is to shuttle direction changes and how it provides a choice of four settings so I adjust how quickly it reacts.


“I always use the joystick in the field and pedal on the road – I think it’s safer. If you take your foot off the pedal it slows down – just as you expect it to,” he says.


The tractor was supplied ready with auto-steer, using a roaming sim card RTK signal through the Varioterminal. This 10.4in touch-screen controller is used to set up all the main tractor functions, including the settings for the electronically operated spool valves and the headland management system.


“I set the spools on timed operations and these are also linked to the joystick. I can actually assign any button on the joystick to any spool,” he explains.


“The hydraulics are very powerful. Kverneland recommends a 10.5t lift capacity for the seven-furrow plough and it lifts it without any problems, even if there’s soil built-up on the mouldboards. Our previous tractors could sometimes struggle with that,” he says. “We also specified the heavy duty hydraulic top link, which is also very powerful.”

System relieves the pressure

Often in farming a job gets done if it’s easy to do, but not if it’s not. So it is with tyre pressure adjustments.


Until quite recently farmers have had three options – do nothing, use the tractor’s air-brake compressor and an airline or install a retro-fit adjustment kit, which usually entails pipework being routed precariously around the tyres to the rotating manifold on the hub.


Fendt, however, offers its VarioGrip integrated tyre pressure regulation system on its ranges from the 800 Series upwards. The cost of this factory-fit option, it says, can be recouped through an 8% saving in fuel combined with 10% more pulling power, which results in an 8% increase in the worked area – saving up to £7.90/hr (€10/hr).


For operators, it provides the huge advantage of being able to adjust the pressures on the Varioterminal from comfort in the cab. There’s no need to get out and fit an airline and move this to each individual tyre. VarioGrip gets its air from a special double compressor, which has a much higher capacity than the standard fitment. This, adds the firm, helps reduce the inflation time.

Farm Facts

Woodsford Farms, Dorchester, Dorset

  • Area farmed: 1876ha total of which 1507ha cropped
  • Cropping: Winter wheat (367ha), winter oilseed rape (266ha), forage maize (199ha), spring malting barley (176ha), winter naked oats (165ha), Italian ryegrass (97ha), forage rye (96ha), grain maize (60ha), environmental features 87ha
  • Mainline tractors: Fendt 939 Vario; 2x Case IH Puma 215s (hired); Deutz-Fahr T250 TTV (hired)
  • Combines: New Holland CR 9090; NH CR9080
  • Sprayer: 24m Sands Vison self-propelled with 4000-litre tank
  • Loaders: 2x JCB 536-70; Toyota forklift
  • Drill: 6m Väderstad Rapid
  • Cultivation equipment: 5m Simba SL; 6.6m Simba UniPress; 7f Kverneland plough; 5f Kverneland plough; 6.5m Väderstad Carrier; 6m Väderstad NZ cultivator
  • Rolls: 12m Cousins heavy rolls; 6m Väderstad light rolls