Four new Massey Ferguson specialist fruit tractors were delivered to the Lower Hope Estate in early summer 2019, in readiness for the harvest of cherries, raspberries and apples.
The fruit business takes up around 10% of the estate's acreage, but employs more than 250 people through the picking season (down to 10 over the winter months). In this scale of operation, the machinery input needs to be reliable.
Assistant fruit manager Ed Turner sets the scene: “The soil is a silty clay loam, which is very heavy and slow to dry out in the spring. We farm at between 340 and 600ft, with very few flat fields, so the terrain can be quite demanding,” he states. “Cherries are the principal crop, at 500-plus tonnes annually, and we supply the major retailers, together with local farm shops, village stores/garages, etc.”
The switch from mainly NH tractors has brought in a MF 3709, with Efficient cab, and three MF 1747 models. Tasks they are put to at Lower Hope include hauling fruit, compost spreading, mowing headlands, relief spraying, rolling up plastic and general work.
So, what were Ed's early impressions of the four newcomers? “The 1747s are very simple and easy to operate for people who have limited experience of driving tractors,” he says. “Opting for the large wheel has meant that they have very good traction, capable of pulling heavily-laden trailers in wet conditions.
“Our home-made cabs have worked well – no-frills, but very practical in terms of keeping the operators dry. There's very little that can go wrong with them – air-con, for example. As the drivers spend all day jumping on and off, having no doors is a positive and the controls stay dry, too.
“In retrospect, the only option we might have been wise to specify is front wheel fenders to contain the spray on wet roads and tracks,” he adds.
Ed describes the MF 3709, with its electric spools and joystick control, as “an extremely comfortable and ergonomically pleasing tractor.” Nevertheless, he believes that “getting in and out for an older or larger person could potentially be challenging, due to the positioning of the handbrake and the high/low gear lever.”
Driving the tractor, however, is a comfortable experience, with the levers in an 'out-of-the-way' position. The power is impressive, and the engine relatively quiet at high revs,” Ed reports. However, he says the ability to fit a pick-up hitch retrospectively would be welcomed.
Feedback from the guys and girls – mostly from Bulgaria and Romania – doing much of the day-to-day work over the harvest period was also sought. “Easy and straightforward to drive” and “handbrake a bit low and hard to apply” featured in replies for the 1747, while “very comfortable to drive, with good visibility” were views attributed to the 3709.
For the Lower Hope Fruit Farm, the orchard tractors investment represented the first time of doing business with the RVW Pugh Massey Ferguson dealership, transacted with the head office branch at Churchstoke and personified by Robert Pugh. “We were impressed by the company's efficiency in sorting out the few initial teething problems we had.” Ed states.