A busy Scottish farm running a fleet of no less than 10 Massey Ferguson tractors puts upwards of 8,000 hours on each machine before it is traded in and is confident to do so without taking out the safety net of extended warranty packages.
Nestled in the heart of the Scottish Borders, Douglas Stewart’s busy farming operation is heavily dependent on a fleet of 10 MF tractors for their proven reliability alongside the versatility to switch between roles.
Mr Stewart’s confidence has been built over several decades of running Massey Ferguson tractors. Fans Farming, based at Fans near Earlston, needs all 10 machines due to the intensive annual workload, which includes growing 150ha of seed potatoes that are graded on site, over 500ha of cereals, alongside a closed herd of 400 Aberdeen Angus breeding cows.
Although the farm has run Massey Ferguson machines for a while, the workload dictates that machinery reliability is key to staying with the brand, as Mr Stewart explains. “The main tractors are doing 1,200 hours a year, so I need them to be near faultless in operation. I replace one tractor every year, usually the oldest in the fleet, with the incoming machine rising to the top and sharing the load with the busiest tractors.”
This replacement policy means each tractor will stay on farm for around 10 years, with hours and workload slowly decreasing over that time as new models arrive. However, this isn’t to say that the older machines are put out to retirement, as they will still be doing between 600-800 hours per season.
Across the past several decades, the farm has slowly increased the average horsepower size, which now sits at 180-200hp. The oldest tractor is a 2009 MF 5460 with a front-end loader that does a lot of cattle work. The main fleet starts with three MF 7618s, an MF 6716 and four MF 7718s. There is only one large tractor in the fleet – a 2021 MF 8730 – that covers 700 hours per year on heavy duties, such as bed forming for potatoes. Maintaining the other machines of a comparable size has offered great benefits to fleet versatility.
He says: I don’t see the benefits in having lots of implements that only one or two machines can operate, as, if problems arise, that is a lot of downtime for both machine and operator. Our fleet offers ultimate flexibility and most of the tractors can interchange roles when required. This allows us to spread machine hours but adjust workload when servicing is required.”
Mr Stewart says that the extended warranty option suits farms with less machines, however, by not taking out the packages, he has effectively become his own insurance policy for when anything goes wrong. Thankfully, forking out of expensive repairs has been limited and this extends to Massey Ferguson tractors running Dyna 6 gearboxes. Across the decades of using this transmission, he has only ever needed to replace one unit, offering further confidence to spec these gearboxes on his new machines.
Sticking to one brand
A key part of the workload at Fans Farming is potatoes, which is not only labour and machinery intensive, but requires adaptable machines for a variety of jobs. An essential feature for Mr Stewart is matching the current size of wheel centres to allow existing row crop wheels to fit new equipment. Some of the fleet use these for over six months of the year.
He explains: “New tractors are expensive, but adding an extra set of row crop wheels and tyres at the same time will significantly increase the cost. If we can be clever by ensuring our existing wheels fit by checking rolling ratios and axle sizes, this can help keep the cost of changing machines as reasonable as possible.”
Running all Massey Ferguson tractors of a similar age also helps with familiarity when operators need to swap machines or implements and is a safety benefit when training new staff members on a particular machine, as the information is transferable across the fleet.
The farm keeps a selection of common spare parts on the shelf for emergencies, along with filters and oils, as all servicing is carried out in house. Mr Stewart records individual tractor hours at the start of every year, which serves as a useful annual comparison between the different models.
All tractors arrive in Efficient spec, the mid-range option offered on MF tractors. This is chosen for having an extra level of comfort and just the right amount of technology, as Mr Stewart explains.
“We are careful when choosing the spec of machines to get just what we want, and we find sometimes less is more, so it pays to not get carried away when ticking options. Adding technology is only good if you become more efficient and can make the most from the investment. It isn’t cheap to upgrade, so we must be sure that it is required.”
One area that is starting to change is the adoption of MF’s Dyna-VT transmission, including on a recently ordered 7S.210. Currently, the two machines on-farm using these gearboxes are a 2019 7718S, and the largest 8730S, with the former being the main potato planting tractor using a new 4m-wide Grimme four row planter.
However, the first tractor to arrive since ScotAgri became the local Massey Ferguson dealer still remains loyal to the Dyna-6 transmission – a MF 7S.180 is due for delivery at the end of May to replace one of the 7618 machines proving it is still a horses for courses approach to machinery replacement.
Most new machines arrive guidance ready, but it is only fitted to the ones that require it to avoid costly expense to tractors on general jobs, such as carting grain or potatoes. One extra on the Efficient models that has proved useful is the electronic spool valves instead of manual levers, which allows extra space in the cab for the control boxes of the trailed implements, including the two 15-year old destoners.
The confidence to run machinery to higher hours without warranty has offered a flexible approach to machinery replacement and a reliable fleet capable of coping with a heavy workload.
09’ MF 5480 with front end loader
13’ MF 7618
15’ MF 7618
16’ MF 7618
17’ MF 7718
18 MF 6716
19’ MF 7718
20’ MF 7718
21’ MF 8730
22’ MF 7718