Essex-based farming business PG Rix (Farms) Ltd bought its first Fendt tractor in 2019, but now there are seven on the fleet, and three more have recently been delivered.
The family-owned business operates from Great Horkesley, near Colchester, and includes almost 2,500ha of owned, rented, and contract-farmed land, most of which is in the Stour Valley and Colchester areas. Potatoes and spring-sown bulb onions are specialities, and other crops include sugar beet, a mix of cereals, maize, and nearly 50ha of lettuce. Other land is grass and managed woodland, much of it within ELS and HLS environmental stewardship schemes. For the potatoes and onions, which require an extended rotation, land with irrigation is rented seasonally, up to 50 miles from the base.
PG Rix (Farms) Ltd uses a 20-tractor mixed brand fleet. Crawfords supplied the first Fendt in 2019 following a successful demonstration.
Six more have been added since then and another three have recently been delivered.
The 20-tractor mixed brand fleet includes two Fendt 943 Vario MT rubber-track crawlers, a 936 Vario wheeled tractor, and four 718 Varios and most recently the addition of two 720 Varios and a 724 Vario. There is also a Challenger 865 rubber-tracked crawler, and the other tractors are all a single brand which dominated the fleet from 2003 until 2019 when the first Fendt arrived.
“After 16 years using just one brand of wheeled tractor, we looked at alternatives,” explained Farm Manager James Liddell. “Good dealers surround us, and the latest model from our existing brand was trialled alongside two carefully selected competitors for the month-long destoning season. All had CVT transmissions, which we favour for their flexibility and ease of use, and our main considerations were efficiency, driver comfort and versatility. The Fendt 700 Vario series came out on top. We measured the fuel used by each tractor for the duration of the trial, and the Fendt proved the most economical, and the operators preferred the Fendt cab.”
“The tractors are good, but our main reason for investing in Fendt is the Crawfords service”
More Fendts followed
For the busy farming enterprise, operating reliable tractors backed up by an effective dealer team is essential, and James said that the Crawfords team had already proved themselves looking after the Challenger crawler, so there were no worries when placing an order for the Fendt. The first 718 Vario arrived in 2019 and performed even better than expected, so two more joined the fleet in 2020, and the fourth arrived last year. Since then, two 943 Vario MT rubber track crawlers have joined the fleet – one of which replaced a Challenger crawler and a 936 Vario with VarioGrip central tyre inflation.
The Fendt 936 Vario does most of the ploughing and is the farm’s first tractor equipped with an on-board tyre inflation system.
Tractors for tasks
Key roles for the 700 Vario-series tractors include land preparation for onions and potatoes, working with de-stoners, onion drills, and potato planters. They are also used for harvesting, topping, lifting and windrowing.
The 936 Vario is the main ploughing tractor, and it pulls a seven- or eight-furrow Lemken in-furrow/on-land plough and furrow press. It is the first tractor with onboard tyre pressure control, and James said the benefits are significant. Tyre pressures are reduced for fieldwork to maximise traction and minimise soil compaction, then raised for road travel, allowing higher speeds and saving time. James said that one of the most impressive features of the 936 Vario is its versatility. It can be heavily ballasted to maximise traction for heavy draft work, but with the weights removed, it is light enough for seedbed cultivations and transport tasks.
“The Fendt 700 Vario-series came out on top”
The two Fendt 943 Vario MT crawlers do most of the general cultivations. Unlike the previous Challengers, which had powershift transmissions, the Fendts have VarioDrive CVT, which uses a combination of hydraulic and mechanical drive. Advantages include infinite speed adjustment, a much smoother driving experience for the user, and time savings when shunting into corners and during headland turns.
The tractors average 1,000 working hours annually across the fleet, and most have dedicated operators. The Fendts came with an 8-year, 8,000-hour warranty. “We changed the previous tractors when they had worked 5,000–6,000 hours,” said James of Essex-based farming business PG Rix. “We will see how the Fendts get on – if they remain reliable without needing expensive repairs, then we may keep them longer. When we update them, we expect the retained values to be high, resulting in a competitive cost of ownership.”
The farm has two Fendt 936 Vario MT rubber track crawlers. One was an additional machine and the other replaced a Challenger
crawler which was also supplied by Crawfords.
Popular with users
The Fendts are popular with their operators, who spend up to 14 hours per day in the cabs. “The 936 Vario is quiet and comfortable – the visibility all around is excellent, and it has plenty of power,” explained its primary user, Michael Bloomfield. “The new MAN engine is brilliant. With an 8f in-furrow/on-land plough and press behind and creating 16-inch wide, 13-inch-deep furrows in preparation for potatoes, it uses only 45 litres of diesel per hour, much less than our previous tractors. With a 6m stone burier, it uses just 36 litres of fuel per hour.
“The VarioDrive transmission is very clever. I could select 4wd manually, but there is never any need. I leave it in automatic, and it distributes the drive between the front and rear axles to achieve maximum traction and performance. The front suspension is independent, and that’s a big advantage – on the road and in the field, the ride quality is excellent. I’m also impressed by its lift capacity. Sometimes our previous tractors struggled to raise our heavy plough out of the ground when conditions were sticky, but the Fendt does it easily.”
PG Rix Farms Ltd Farm Manager James Liddell.
Darren Bickmore drives one of the 943 Vario MT crawlers. “Compared to the Challenger, it’s easier to drive and more comfortable,” he said. “The track suspension provides a smoother ride – not up to the 936 Vario wheeled tractor standard, but it’s very comfortable for a tracked machine.
“It’s a rewarding tractor to drive too, and there is plenty of scope to adjust the engine and transmission settings to obtain the best performance. The engine has plenty of torque, and using the tractor’s ability to operate at lower revs while still achieving the work rate needed can save a lot of fuel. The VarioDrive transmission needs a nudge on the joystick to adjust the operating speed – it’s so user-friendly. The headland management is superb too, and after each turn, a button presses the saved work settings for the implement and tractor again, which improves efficiency and reduces fatigue.
“I’m very impressed by the smaller 700 Vario-series tractors too. They are smooth and comfortable on the road, and they feel stable and hold the road well.”
Pictured (l-r) Fendt 943 Vario MT operator Darren Bickmore, 936 Vario operator Michael Bloomfield and
Farm Manager James Liddell of Essex-based farming business PG Rix
James said that the back-up from the Crawfords team is outstanding. “Whenever we call with a problem, a technician arrives quickly, and if it isn’t the same day, it will be the first thing the next morning. They are all well-trained, and there has never been a situation when the problem hasn’t been identified and rectified immediately, even if the technician has had to return to the dealer’s yard to collect a replacement part.
“Everyone at Crawfords is friendly and keen to help, and the team members are always cheerful. We’ve recently placed an order for three additional Fendt 700 Vario-series tractors to replace more of the previous brand. If the tractors continue to perform as well as they have so far and the dealer’s back-up remains just as good, then there is potential to have even more Fendts on the fleet. The tractors are good, but our main reason for investing in Fendt is the Crawfords service.”