The Chamberlains have farmed at Benson, Oxfordshire for almost 130 years, and for the past 70 years Massey Ferguson combines have brought in the harvest.

Trading as Crowmarsh Battle Farms Ltd, the business is run by Philip Chamberlain and his sons Tim and Charles. Arable crops including wheat, barley, oilseed rape, maize, beans and poppies are grown in a six-year rotation on a range of soil types across 1,300ha of owned, contract-farmed, and rented land.


Happy with the brand

Wheats grown for milling are supplied to Wessex Mill at Wantage nearby. Barley is for feed for a local pig farm, or for malting. The area of combinable crops has varied during the past 10 years. The new Ideal 9PL with a 35ft SuperFlow header replaced two Massey Ferguson 9380AL Deltas with 30ft PowerFlow headers. “We like Massey Ferguson combines,” explained Tim who is the main combine operator. “Support from our local dealer has been good, and we can always achieve a quality sample. That’s important to us as we aim for premium markets.”


A Massey Ferguson IDEAL 9PL with a 35ft SuperFlow header replaced two Massey Ferguson 9380 AL combines with 30ft headers at Crowmarsh Battle Farms in Oxfordshire.


Straw handling

Most of the cereal straw is baled and swapped for manure with a local pig farm. Straw from beans and oilseed rape is usually chopped, but sometimes baled and sold for power station use. Field work after harvest includes use of a stubble rake ahead of oilseed rape and spring crops where cover crops aren’t grown. Cultivations are minimised and involve a pass with a disc cultivator or more aggressive cultivation with a Vaderstad TopDown if necessary.  


IDEAL solution

In 2018, when the two MF Delta combines were due for updating an early Ideal 8 was trialled. “We didn’t look at other brands but having heard about the new Ideal we were keen to try it. The Deltas were gentle on the grain and left the straw in good condition for baling, and we hoped that the Ideal would give us similar benefits plus the extra capacity we needed to manage with a single machine while still being able to harvest crops in optimum condition and when the weather allows,” Tim continued.

Following the successful demonstration, an MF IDEAL 9PL with a 35ft SuperFlow header was ordered, and delivered for the 2019 harvest. Tim explained that previous experience of the brand and dealer meant the family was happy to commit to the new machine. “We have always had an excellent relationship with the team at Chandlers (MF) Ltd, which was formerly Lister Wilder, as well as Massey Ferguson. We expected the new combine to suffer a few teething problems but were confident that they would be quickly rectified to minimise downtime.”

The combine was ordered with IDEALharvest. Using information from a grain quality camera and acoustic sensors this provides real-time visualisation of crop flow within the combine on an iPad display, and automatically optimises performance in line with priorities set by the operator. “IDEALharvest works well, and I tend to start new crops using settings automatically applied by the combine, then work with IDEALharvest to optimise the sample and output while minimising losses.

“HarvestPlus is a great feature too. It maintains constant output by adjusting the travel speed, while also keeping losses within pre-set limits. I can concentrate more on the crop and header,” commented Tim.

Updates each year have improved reliability and output. “We still experience occasional teething issues but they are quickly sorted, and the combine is very reliable. It’s simple and easy to maintain, the cab is large, quiet, and comfortable and the controls are well arranged. We get on well with it.”

The 2021 harvest was challenging as frequent rain showers meant grain moisture remained high and straw was often damp, but the IDEAL averaged 45ha per day in less than 12 hours, and more than 50ha in standing wheat. Typical spot harvesting rates of 60–70tph were achieved across most crops.


Slope compensation

The MF IDEAL was ordered with ParaLevel which uses front axle adjustment to keep the combine level on slopes up to 14%. “Our previous Delta combines had AutoLevel and it significantly improved performance on slopes as the separation and cleaning systems remained level and could operate at full capacity,” explained Tim. “With IDEALbalance, the standard Ideal is insensitive to slopes up to 14%, but we felt that adding ParaLevel would improve the performance even further and allow us to maintain the high outputs we require without sacrificing losses. It’s proved a worthwhile investment and this year the losses remained low even though there was a lot of wet straw to separate from the grain. Tracks aren’t available on ParaLevel machines, but we opted for the widest 900-series tyres instead and they provide plenty of grip and minimise soil damage.”


Constant crop flow

The 35ft header was also chosen with undulating fields in mind. “Our IDEAL would easily cope with a bigger header, but the steep slopes and pits in our fields mean anything wider would result in missed crop. We wanted the IDEAL 9PL for the powerful engine and the decision has proved successful. Even when climbing slopes with the straw chopper engaged and the unloading auger running, the engine rarely runs at full capacity.

“The header has been excellent in every crop and allows us to cut low and get in under laid barley. The even feed to the rotors means we maintain high output even in challenging conditions. Straw volumes were huge this year, but when the swaths were checked there were very few unthreshed ears or grains on the ground,” he stressed.


The farm opted for the ParaLevel (PL) version for its ability to keep the combine level on slopes up to 15 per cent, allowing throughput to be maintained without risking increased losses.


The IDEAL 9PL is economical and easily achieves a full day’s work on a tank of fuel. Tim said daily maintenance is minimal and the engine bay stays clean. “We blow it down with a compressor at the start of each day which we would do with any combine, but there is very little dust or chaff build-up. Everything that needs doing is very easy, apart from the oilseed rape side knives which take longer than they should to fit and remove.”

Apart from the increased output, advantages over the Delta include the Vision cab and extra technology to assist the operator. Visibility all around is superb, and Tim especially likes the narrow cab pillars which are angled to avoid blocking the view of the header.  However, because Tim is tall, he finds the top door hinge obstructs his view of the left-hand mirror.


Repeat order

The IDEAL is likely to be kept until at least its fifth harvest. “Reliability has increased each year and it’s performing well,” Tim confirmed. “It’s achieving everything we hoped for including excellent grain and straw quality and high output, and the back-up we receive from Chandlers is superb. Unless our farm situation or cropping changes in future, then we will almost certainly buy the same again.”


Tim Chamberlain likes the IDEAL’s Vision cab and says the view of the table is excellent.

Find a Dealer