Vegetable & Root Crop Harvesting
Orange advantage for Norfolk potato grower
Market leading compact tractor manufacturer Kubota announced its intention to compete aggressively with long-standing brands for a slice of the conventional horsepower tractor market almost three years ago and European manufacturing started last year. David Williams visited a UK arable farmer who has swapped almost his entire fleet for the new orange flagship. North Norfolk-based Alastair Wagg, trading as PJ & AJ Wagg, is involved with growing 485ha (1,200 acres) of potatoes on 18 farms between King's Lynn and Cromer. The Wagg family has diversified its Manor Farm, Tattersett base into a successful luxury accommodation and events venue; a far cry from its previous use as a cattle and pig farm. Alastair’s main business, however, is potatoes which he has been involved with for more than 25 years working with Peter Williams of Lynwood Growers. All the land is rented and the crop is grown for markets from salad to ware and processing, almost all sold to major supermarkets. “The rented land quality varies; some is heavy, some stony and supplying a range of markets means we can pick and choose which crop is grown where,” explained Alastair. “But all the farmers we work with we have known well for many years and the arrangement works well for everyone concerned and, of course, we are always happy to talk with farmers regarding additional land.” Three Grimme harvesters are used; two trailed and one self-propelled and the fleet of de-stoners includes four Grimme and two Scanstone machines with two Grimme belt planters and a trailed cup planter establishing the crop. “We grew onions too last year to spread the workload and make best use of the land for the owners as it allows us to rent for two years at a time instead of one,” said Alastair. “But preparing land for onions following potatoes meant controlling wheelings to a greater extent than was practical, plus the market proved even more volatile than for potatoes, so we have given up on the concept for now.”
Five full-time staff are employed with extra brought in for busy periods, some with their own tractors supplementing Alastair’s fleet. During planting, up to six stone pickers, three planters and three to four materials handlers are needed to take advantage of ideal working conditions when the weather allows. “We run one high horsepower tractor with 360hp used primarily to pull a 4.5m subsoiler,” said Alastair. “It does such a good job of loosening that the following ridging operation requires only a 230hp tractor to pull our Scanstone 4-bed ridger. We own six smaller tractors which are used all year round. This availability keeps us in control of the land to carry out work when needed.”
Faith in dealer Until two years ago Alastair had remained loyal to one brand having enjoyed good reliability and ease of use through CVT transmission across the fleet. “We dealt with Neil Richardson most of the time at the main dealer. He knew us well and we trusted him,” explained Alastair. “The dealer was taken over but we heard Neil was setting up on his own to represent Kubota and were interested. Trading as Neil Richardson Agricultural Machinery, he explained to us what Kubota was doing with its M7-series tractors, available with CVT transmission, and we shared his confidence that they would suit our needs. We had no doubts at all over Neil’s ability to provide backup and placed one of the first UK orders for the new model.” Two 150hp M7151 KVT Premium tractors were ordered in November 2014, within two months of Kubota’s press conference announcing the new
models. These were to replace two of the current fleet due for updating. An early research and development tractor was borrowed for several months while Alastair waited for M7 series production to start. “We were keen to receive our new tractors but Kubota wouldn’t start production until it was totally satisfied that every aspect of the design was perfect,” said Alastair. “I was loaned a second pre-production tractor to use while waiting and the company did all it could to make sure we weren’t inconvenienced. The tractors we borrowed performed well, but were basic specification and lacked cab suspension and air suspension seats, which we had specified for our own machines. We used them extensively and were asked if we would discuss our experience with Kubota’s development team. Representatives came to the farm and asked how we were getting on with the new models but were less interested in what we liked about them than any criticisms we had. We pointed out a few items including minor build quality issues which the team from Japan and France took seriously. “Actually, although the delay in receiving my new tractors was frustrating, the whole situation meant I was impressed rather than annoyed as I could see the company wasn’t prepared to sacrifice quality just to deliver the tractors more quickly and it reassured me that the new tractors would be worth waiting for.”
The delay persuaded Alastair to order two slightly smaller Kubota 135hp M135GX models in the meantime. These didn’t have CVT transmission but Alastair reasoned they could be used on planters where infinite speed adjustment wasn’t as necessary as for stone picking and ridging. “One of their tasks was trailer work and we'd use them occasionally with 18t trailers. We treated them with respect as they were smaller than ideal, but they coped without any problems,” said Alastair.
Further orders The two M7151s arrived in June 2016 followed by a more powerful 170hp M7171 Premium KVT in October and a third M7151 Premium KVT in April 2017. Just one other brand tractor remains on the fleet; a 360hp machine which will stay for the time being as Kubota doesn’t yet offer an equivalent. The two M135GX tractors are due to be replaced shortly by two more M7151 tractors. “They have worked 1,900hrs each so far and have been totally reliable, but they lack CVT transmission and cab suspension and with all the road work the operators prefer the new M7 tractors which have it,” Alastair commented. The Kubotas carry out all fieldwork apart from heavy subsoiling and ridging and are busy from when the crop is established; applying fertiliser and some sprays and shifting the fleet of up to 24 irrigator reels. Thirteen continued over...
Operator Ed Rivett applies fertiliser to a potato crop near Cromer in early June using one of the three M7151 tractors. Two more similar tractors will be ordered in the coming months.
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