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An “entirely different” class of machine John Collen (left) with father Bryan.

The change back from wheeled to tracked tractors, lately in the shape of Case IH Quadtracs, has transformed one Suffolk business’ perspective on horsepower and allowed it to farm more land more efficiently over a far wider radius. Grower John Collen of HJ Collen & Sons and Grain2seed says: “Historically, when it came to tractors we tended to use mainly large wheeled models fitted with dual wheels to get the power down and minimise compaction. “Until 2011 the largest was a 310hp Case IH Magnum 310, bought new four years before to replace a Challenger 45 that was becoming expensive to maintain. “Tyre technology was also advancing significantly and the introduction of 800-series tyres greatly improved the transmission of power from the engine to the ground.” However, the use of tractors with dual wheels on roads that become busy with tourist traffic in summer and autumn, as well as being narrow in places, became increasingly impractical, time-consuming and dangerous. The Magnum was therefore traded in six years ago against the Collen’s first Case IH Quadtrac, a 485hp model from Ernest Doe Power at Framlingham.

Part exchanged A year later, having taken on more land, this machine was part-exchanged against a new Quadtrac 600. Not only was this significantly more powerful, but it was also much more comfortable for the operator, since its suspended cab offered a great improvement in ride quality, particularly when on the road, says John. In addition to the 600 hectares (1,500 acres) that they own at Gisleham near Lowestoft, the Collens also contract farm a further 800ha (2,000 acres) at three sites, the furthest about 20 miles distant. Cropping comprises winter wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet, spring barley, maize for a local AD plant

and, as of last year, 40ha (100 acres) of parsley. The aim is to block-crop where possible to minimise the amount of time spent moving machinery between sites. With the farms being so far from premium markets, the cost of rejected loads would be high. Coupled with the difficulty of segregating storage, this means that the focus is on producing feed wheat for local mills.

Soil types Soil types vary from blowing sand to heavy clay. John says: “Most consist of very heavy Beccles series clay, which is noted for its lack of structure. There used to be two brick factories on the farm, so we’re aware of the need to minimise compaction and achieve timeliness. “There’s no second chance. If you miss an opportunity, you never get it back that season. If the soil becomes wet, wheeled tractors struggle for grip, it becomes compacted and the life goes out of it. This hits yields hard and encourages black-grass. Growing a strong, early variety such as Skyfall, which covers the ground, does help though.” Good, early establishment is absolutely vital, says John. Fieldwork therefore must be done at the optimum time, under optimum conditions. Any compromise in terms of getting crops in the ground reflects in a significant loss of yield and profitability. And one area where the Collens refuse to compromise is in the machinery they run, even if it means having slightly more capacity than they need, in theory, for their area. In the long run, the cost of operating the

‘right’ machinery is outweighed by the potential loss in income, says John. “Our Quadtrac 600 has done about 3,000 hours over the past five seasons. That’s nothing like the amount that some of these machines clock. But, for us, the key is to be able to do the work when it needs doing. “Tracks are the only option to cover the ground quickly and keep the transport width manageable,” he states. “From the outset, the Quadtrac’s design looked right. The pivot steer avoids the issue of soil disturbance on the headlands. Plus the RTK-guided auto-steering means that, rather than turning directly into the next bout, we can work alternate bouts to reduce it further.” What impresses the Collens most, however, is how such a large machine is able to float across the land and to go where any ordinary wheeled tractor would quickly become bogged down. “The light footprint is quite remarkable,” says John. “We’ve even taken a Quadtrac on some very wet, low-lying marshland to pull out another tractor, with no issues at all. “Although some might question the amount of damage that large, heavy machinery does to the soil structure, the Quadtrac’s footprint is so light that it barely leaves a mark on any type of soil.

Wet spring “Spring 2016 was very wet, and wheeled tractors left ruts that could be seen for the rest of the season but, behind the Quadtrac, there was nothing. In fact, our soil has never been in better condition. “The Quadtrac is so different from any conventional tractor that we tend to think of it as an entirely different class of machine.” The Collens acquired another Quadtrac in 2015, having taken on yet more land, replacing their other Magnum 310 with a Quadtrac 535 with 5,000 hours on the clock. Buying new wasn’t an option with crop prices being where they were. Although there isn’t a great

difference in performance between the two models, the Quadtrac 600, being a younger machine, is significantly more advanced in terms of operator comfort because of its suspended cab, says John. That’s important on a machine that’s used for up to 16 hours a day, he adds. The Quadtrac 600’s 12.9-litre, 6-cylinder diesel engine has a rated power output of 649hp at 2,100rpm and produces a maximum output of 670hp at 1,900rpm and up to 2,848Nm of torque, with a 40 per cent torque rise.

Max horsepower Designed by Case IH and built be Iveco to deliver maximum horsepower smoothly and efficiently, it’s electronically controlled to ensure peak power growth with low fuel consumption. It also features Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology, which improves horsepower, responsiveness and reliability, while lowering emissions and reducing fuel use. Fuel consumption by Tier 4A SCR engines is up to nine per cent lower than Tier 3 power units, the manufacturer points out. With a 1,820-litre fuel tank and 250-litre AdBlue tank, the Quadtrac 600 delivers its power through a 16-speed Steiger Powershift transmission that produces smooth shifting and maximises power delivery using pulse-width modulation. Weighing in at 25t, the Quadtrac 600 has four individually-driven oscillating tracks that deliver optimal ground pressure, superior flotation and better traction, combined with reduced compaction. The cab incorporates shockabsorbing components at each corner to counter front-to-back, side-to-side and up-and-down movement, giving a smooth ride regardless of terrain. A combination of springs, pads and mounts fully isolates the cab from chassis-created vibrations, avoiding repeated jarring and bouncing. This allows the operator to focus better and to have more control over the tractor, without the fatigue and soreness associated with the end of a long shift. ■

The Quadtrac 600 with an 8m Horsch Sprinter drill.

56 February 2017

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Farmers Guide February 2017