Smaller tractors under 100hp have long been seen as basic machines with few mod cons in comparison to their more powerful siblings. However, they are essential pieces of kit for some farming businesses and increasing levels of sophistication are now key parts of the purchasing criteria.
After a demo period trialling three major tractor brands, the John Innes Centre (JIC) research institute in Norwich chose a Massey Ferguson 4708M as its primary plot drilling tractor thanks to a high spec and considerable operator comfort it offered over the competition.
Darryl Playford is site manager at the Dorothea de Winton field station in Bawburgh, Norwich, where, across 15-20ha, the team are planting up to 12,000 experimental plots of wheat and oilseed rape per year. He wanted a third tractor to better suit his plot drilling work, allowing narrower wheel centres to increase the number of passes across the field. Mr Playford and his team of three operators – Chris Allen, Rich Samworth and Rebecca Lee – set about finding a machine suited to the niche operation.
“The tractor had to be smaller compared with our current machines but also comfortable for long days in the cab. We wanted to reduce our headland size from 18m to 12m, so a tight turning circle was required, but it had to be capable of handling the mounted equipment we have,” says Mr Playford.
The farm looked at three machines in the 80-100hp bracket, and with two Claas Arion 440 tractors on farm already, the aim was to choose the right machine for the job, rather than stick to a particular brand.
Higher spec with Dyna 2 transmission
One of the main reasons for choosing the Massey Ferguson 4708M over the other two brands was the high spec of the tractor and how the design, fitment, and ease of use felt like it had been continued from the larger models in the MF range, as he explains.
“Everyone that drove the MF4708 M on demo felt it was well built with quality materials and a good spec, including the Dyna 2 transmission and three spool values. Sometimes the smaller tractors are a bit basic and don’t have the premium feel of larger machines, but the 4708M offered a much quieter and easier to use operator environment,” comments Mr Playford.
The Massey Ferguson 4708 M is the smallest tractor of the trio in the 4700M range, offering 82hp from the 3-cylinder, 3.3-litre AGCO Power engine. The inclusion of a new Dyna 2 gearbox has significantly increased operator comfort allowing clutch less shifting of 24 gears in both forward and reverse via a gearstick-mounted thumb button. This allows quick gear changes without a break in power delivery and has been favoured by one of the operators, Rebecca Lee.
“Some of the drilling work can be as slow as 2.5kph, so being able to adjust the gears quickly to change speed is crucial to improve accuracy. The cab is well laid out too, with many features as standard, which is one of the reasons we liked the 4708 M,” she says.
Other features that came with the tractor included external rear linkage buttons that allow the height of the rear implement to be adjusted without getting back into the cab, something operator Rich Samworth says was essential. “Our two existing Claas Arion machines have these external buttons, so they were crucial on the new tractor. They save so much time when setting up a drill and are a luxury feature on a small tractor.”
Along with the shorter wheelbase than the existing tractors, the 4708 M was also specced with 1.55m wheel centres to reduce the overall width by 100mm from the standard 1.65m. The aim is to reduce the width of each wheeling across a field and allow additional plots to be sown.
“Although it is only 100mm, with 100 plots over a field, we are gaining an extra 10m of space by the end, which can be used to drill more plots. It also allows us to tighten each wheeling and reduce the on-edge effect we had with the wider centres.”
Mr Playford said the farm may look to get narrower tyres in the future to suit the widths better. The option of a speed steer function on one of the competitor demo machines would have been a nice addition and could have reduced the headland size further, but it wasn’t enough to sway the farm away from the MF.
“The speed steering function would have been really helpful for headlands, but all operators felt that the overall package of the 4708M, including the quality of finish and higher spec, was of greater importance than a speed steer function.”
Back-up by local dealer Thurlow Nunn Standen, who also service the tractor, has included an adjustment to the clutch, along with a software update to change the speed readouts. The farm will look to keep the tractor for 10 years and make the most of the investment, with the new addition helping to increase work efficiencies at the John Innes Centre.