Nairnshire seed potato specialist relies on Vario transmission

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A fleet of three Fendt 700 Vario tractors, including the current Gen 6 model, have been chosen by Nairnshire farmer Glen Allingham at Craggie Farm.

The tractors power-to-weight ratio, combined with on-board technology and Fendt’s continuously variable Vario transmission, helps it plant and harvest 280 acres of pre-basic seed potatoes per year with precision.

The CVT transmission has proven to be crucial in accurately planting and harvesting seed spuds. An infinitely variable ground speed, governed largely by a PTO speed of just 400 rpm, allows for neat and controlled work.

The Fendt 720 that Mr Allingham drives himself moves almost effortlessly at these speeds despite being pulled by a Grimme GT 170 harvester with a heavy payload, not to mention his team members on board to check the quality of the harvest.

“The farm only used CVT transmissions. In the 1970s we used a hydrostatic drive tractor made by International Harvester, now Case IH. The same principle as the Vario was achieved, it was way ahead on his time,” Mr Allingham said.

“The CVT helps us control the tractor and we mainly do PTO work, so using the pedal I can maintain the PTO speed while regulating the forward speed.”

The team acts as a multiplier unit for seed potatoes, taking varieties from 10 different seed merchants as “mini-tubers” to plant. Mr Allingham said that a large proportion of UK seed potato varieties were bred in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands.

“We believe it is important to work with UK breeders who want to market new varieties grown in our climate and adapted to our soils. Nairnshire is remarkably dry, as is the South East of England, which reduces problems with bacterial and fungal diseases.

“We also benefit from being far enough north to reduce the threat of aphids, which makes the farm a unique proposition for testing varieties,” he explained.

Technology for more precision

Accuracy of work is aided by FendtGuide, the RTK GPS system, which runs on all three 700 Series tractors. allow extreme precision when sowing, fertilising, spraying and harvesting.

“Piloting is not precise enough. We pay license fees between £750 and £900 per tractor and it’s worth every penny. The Fendt system is so precise that it can even mark stones in our soil to protect machinery and the crop,” he said.

“We haven’t extended how GPS works on implements, because that’s a level of precision harvesting doesn’t really command.”

The technology is shared between the three tractors, although the oldest is five years old. Longevity is integral to his ownership strategy following the return on investment he got from his first two Fendt tractors, both of which were purchased used.

“We started with used Fendt because we felt they were too expensive when new. We had two 700s with over 5000 hours and ran them for another 3000 hours. The 716 covered 3000 hours in three years and only lost £9000 in value, and it was a similar story with the 722 we bought.

This alleviated any concerns that Fendts would be too expensive to operate and he began to appreciate the nature of the investment that had been made. However, he suggested that the residual value is not as important as the operational efficiency and precision offered by the Fendt.

“To compare with the automotive world, a Rolls Royce doesn’t do much more than a Ford, but a Fendt does a lot more for us than a standard tractor. We never doubted the tractors and the support from Ross Agri was unwavering.

“We keep the tractors for 10 years and 10,000 hours and the trade-in value is still very good, but the job they do is even better,” he said.

New generation

He now operates a 720 Profi Plus on an ’18’ plate, a 724 Profi Plus on a ’19’ plate and a Gen 6 720 on a ’71’ plate, all purchased new from Ross Agri Services.

The combination gave relative parity in design and operation, although the newer model benefits from the FendtONE operating system. It’s operated by Gavin Forsyth, who explained that FendtONE was a significant step up from the Gen 5 machines:

“The old arm was good, but the new one is better, especially for section control work,” he said. “The new joystick has additional buttons so I can work in continuous joystick mode, which is much easier and more precise.

“The GPS works everywhere and is very easy to use. The tractor is quiet and the way the two screens are set up, I don’t have to flip through so many pages. I didn’t think they could make a good tractor better , but they did.

He used the tractor’s VarioDoc to map where each potato variety is. He transfers data to a field database via GPRS at all times, regardless of where he operates, to make it available for use by himself or other tractors in the fleet.

“When we prepare the potato fields, the first task is to map and till. We then decide how to ridge and how deep to work. We plow at one angle and the ridge at another, so I put the data on a USB stick and share it between the tractors to allow them to follow the correct lines,” Forsyth explained.

Fertilizer costs have also led the farm to operate with section control to provide greater accuracy at headlands and he credits the FendtONE system with greatly simplifying the setup process for this job.

“We can’t afford to waste and because we have so many varieties, we can’t afford not to be specific. There’s so much going on when planting, it’s nice to know the technology is working for me in the background.

“I could do it with any tractor, but the Fendts are easier and I feel the technology is ahead of the game. The GPS is never wrong and has never let us down, it works in areas low signal and is very accurate, which is of paramount importance for potatoes,” he concluded.

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