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Results justify continuing investment in tracks

Cambridgeshire Farms Growers Ltd was an early adopter of rubber tracks for machinery used on 4,500ha it farms in Cambridgeshire. Investment has continued as technology has improved and David Williams visited the farm to find out why tracks continue to replace wheels whenever possible. The farm operation includes 3 main sites and 8 growing areas, up to 25 miles apart, with highly productive soils ranging from black sand to fen, and heavier skirt fen with silt and clay including at least 10 per cent organic matter. The rotation includes 1,000ha of combinable cereals, 1,000ha of maize grown for an AD plant, 400ha of potatoes, 600ha of onions and more than 1,500ha of salads produced and marketed through G’s Growers of which the farm is a member. Salad crops include 600ha of bulb onions, 1,150ha of Little Gem and Iceberg lettuce and 350ha celery and there are also 400ha potatoes. Part of the production is organic including lettuces, celery, bulb onions and beetroot.

Early adopters The farm’s first rubber-tracked tractor was bought over 20 years ago when the farm imported a John Deere twintrack crawler. The tracks’ performance encouraged the company to look at options for other tractors and a

set of Soucy tracks was purchased from the importer at that time, a local dealer, for a Case IH MX170 tractor. “We were trying to plough-in sugar beet crops in wet November conditions using a 7f reversible plough on a twin-track crawler,” explained leafy salads manager Rob Parker. “It couldn’t achieve sufficient traction but a demonstration Case IH tractor with Soucy track units had no problem at all, and we placed an order.” The fen land is ‘bottom-less’ and Rob said it takes only a small amount of wheel-slip before problems occur and machinery becomes bogged down. The farm tries hard to prevent compaction although wet soils more commonly result from water build-up over the clay layer below, so rotational sub-soiling is used to ensure free drainage. “We irrigate extensively but need soils clean and dry for field operations. Tracks and sub-soiling are key to this while cover crops increasingly play their part,” he said. Much of the land is ploughed in front of salads, but in-furrow ploughing is avoided because of potentially deeper compaction. A Case IH Quadtrac operates with a Lemken 12f reversible and two Lemken 7f reversibles are used behind Case IH Pumas, both on Soucy tracks. “The track frame geometry means the rearmost ground contact point is further back than on wheels,” explained Rob. “This means heavy ploughs are easily lifted without any front ballast which helps keep Rob Parker says without his Soucy rubber tracks he would need bigger tractors, smaller planters, more labour and larger spacing between edge plants and the wheelings resulting in lower yields.

The planter’s flotation wheels leave a deeper track than the narrow 12in Soucy tractor tracks. Swapping the wheels to tracks would allow salad to be planted closer to the wheeling allowing increased plant population and yields.

tractor weights down and allows smaller tractors to be used than would otherwise be needed. On wheels we would need at least 300hp but the 215hp Pumas easily pull and lift the ploughs.” The farm operates five sets of tracks; two wide and three narrow. Three tractors were ordered without wheels as tracks are fitted all year while the other two tractors are swapped onto wheels for part of the season, an operation taking just a day each to fit and remove. Four sets are Soucy and one is a competitor make although Rob said the latest Soucy units offer significant advantages. “We used to operate two sets of another brand – one narrow and one wide, but they were difficult to fit and remove and couldn’t be easily swapped between tractors without needing bespoke components. Soucy tracks have proved well made and reliable from the start, but an advantage of the latest version is that it can be swapped between different tractor brands and models relatively quickly. Only the mounts and drive sprockets need changing. “Another advantage of Soucy is the service from importer Brocks Wheel & Tyre (BWT) and Soucy itself. We ordered a new John Deere tractor this year and as soon as our main dealer Doubleday gave us the chassis number, which we passed on to Brocks and Soucy, the tracks arrived ready to fit with no problems. We also found Soucy’s service very good previously,

when we bought a new Case IH Puma 230 and needed to transfer a 6–7 year old set of Soucy tracks from the outgoing Puma 210. We provided the serial number and received accurate advice regarding fitting,” explained Rob. Soucy is just as quick to provide useful advice even if it prevents a sale, added Rob. Last autumn when a set of 12in tracks was considered for a Puma 230, Soucy advised that potential loadings could be too high for the narrow assembly. “That sort of advice is valuable to us. We don’t want problems and downtime and although it meant they didn’t take a possible order, they preferred to be cautious for which I respect them even more.”

Tracks outlast tractors Tractors are replaced after 5 years when they have worked 8,000– 10,000hrs but the track sets are kept for the new tractors. The older track assemblies have worked approximately 8,000hrs, explained Rob although new rubber belts are required every 3,500hrs for the wider sets and after 4,000–5,000hrs for narrower row crop versions. “Narrow tracks become hard and brittle eventually whereas wider tracks fail at the pulling points,” he explained. “New rubber is softer and as the belts become older and start failing the ride becomes rougher. We treat wider tracked machines the same as tyred continued over...

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Farmers Guide Magazine August 2017 Issue