“When I borrowed the Fendt 700 Vario-series demonstrator from the local Crawfords Billingshurst depot, I didn’t expect to buy it, but within 30 minutes of it arriving on the farm, I just didn’t want to give it back,” explained Sussex-based farm manager, David Ellin.
David has managed the 700ha Perching Manor Farm at Fulking in the South Downs National Park for 13 years. The operation includes 240ha of arable cropping plus grass grazing for a 100-head single suckler herd of Angus x Limousin cattle and up to 600 sheep. A large area is enrolled in HLS environmental schemes, and David said there is a strong emphasis on nature and nurture recovery.
The farm is on top of the Brighton Aquifer, and the farm works with Southern Water to monitor the effect of agricultural activities on the water system. Techniques under evaluation include variable rate nitrogen applications.
Cropping is mainly winter wheat, oilseed rape, spring beans and spring barley. Stewardship areas include low-input spring cereals, over-wintered stubbles, and fodder crops. Soils on the farm range from shallow chalk over flint on the high ground to black gault clay and greensand down on the weald. “Our range of soil types means we can’t rely on just one system for everything,” David explained.
“The higher land is colder too. We are just four miles from the sea, and it’s almost always windy, so we see a big difference in crop development across the farm.”
In the past, intensive cereal production relied on high inputs and deep cultivation by a fleet of heavy, high-horsepower tractors. When David started at the farm, he replaced the deep ploughing establishment regime with a minimum tillage system. Then, six years ago, he bought a direct drill with the objective of improving soils, reducing operating costs and reducing labour requirements. Now David does most of the arable work with the help of one full-time employee whose primary role is looking after the livestock.
Last year when the farm’s 190hp main tractor was due for updating, David considered various options. His priority was to identify a tractor with slightly more power, but the tractor also had to be versatile enough for year-round use. He tried a larger tractor of the same brand as his current machine and three competitor brands, but they were all too big and heavy and lacked manoeuvrability. “I wanted plenty of power for our Horsch Sprinter on the hill and for ploughing if needed, but it also had to be light for fertiliser applications and spraying. We are under a lot of pressure to complete fieldwork within short weather windows, so I also wanted user-friendly technology to help improve my working efficiency.”
The Fendt 724 Vario Gen 6 with a FendtONE operator interface is proving the ideal year-around solution for a West Sussex mixed farm.
Excellent Local Backup
Crawfords is a relatively new dealer in the area, but when the farm’s existing Amazone sprayer was due for replacement, David contacted the team. “They couldn’t have been more helpful,” he stressed. “We agreed on a suitable specification, and I placed the order.” There was very little support needed after delivery, but the few times I contacted the dealer, there was always someone available. I was very impressed. In the past, I have used smaller local dealers who looked after me well, but it was quickly obvious that the larger Crawfords business, with four depots and a team of product specialists, offered advantages. We get so few good spraying days due to the weather, and knowing excellent backup is available is essential.”
A neighbouring farmer and contractor suggested that a Fendt tractor might suit the farm. “I had always believed that a Fendt would be too expensive to justify, but we needed a suitable tractor, so I requested the demonstration. I’m sure that even before the demonstrator was delivered, the Crawfords team members were confident that I would order one.”
The Fendt 724 Vario supplied was the latest Gen 6 version with a FendtONE user interface. It immediately impressed me with its compact size and versatility, as well as the exceptional cab comfort. “It ticked all the boxes for me, with plenty of power for working the steep slopes, but also being light and manoeuvrable,” David explained. “I like the cab – the ride quality is excellent, which is important as I have a bad back, and because it has a C-pillar, the door is a suitable size. We get in and out to open field gates on the hills, and in windy conditions, a large door is vulnerable to damage.
The visibility is exceptional, including the view out of the rear window, which makes it easy to hitch up implements and trailers. After the demonstration, we were convinced that it was the right tractor, so the Crawfords Area Sales Representative, David Murray, worked out a price for a tractor which was due in stock. An attractive finance deal meant it was just within our budget, so we placed the order.”
CenterPoint RTX guidance is used, which provides adequate precision for drilling, then subsequent field operations rely on the tramlines created. The FendtONE operator interface allows guidance maps to be displayed on either of the two large touch terminals or on the dashboard display.
“I love the FendtONE concept – it’s easy to use and incredibly versatile,” continued David. “The potential is limitless, but that means there is a lot to learn to get the best from it, and I’m still finding out what it can do four months after taking delivery.”
Farm manager David Ellin said the FendtONE operator interface is logical and easy to use, although he is still finding out its capabilities four months after taking delivery of the tractor.
Quick and Convenient Set-up
One of the most useful features is an implement list stored on the system along with the settings which were last used. “For me – doing as much as I can on my own, is a big help, and it saves a lot of time. When an Isobus-compatible implement is connected, the settings load up automatically, and if it has been used previously on the tractor, then all my preferred settings are automatically applied.”
“We use an elderly Horsch Sprinter for direct drilling. The Horsch dealer came to the farm to help me set it up for the Fendt, and we were both quite surprised as it was recognised immediately by the Fendt’s Isobus system, with no software updates needed.”
Tractor Knows Best
The Fendt 724 Vario is the farm’s first with a continuously variable transmission. David describes himself as a stick and throttle tractor operator, so accepting that the tractor knows best regarding the engine speed and transmission ratio took a while. “The TMS system is superb. On the road, the engine just seems to be ticking over even at maximum speed, and for subsoiling, where I would select engine revs of 1,800–1,900rpm, the TMS system easily maintained the set operating speed but at much lower revs. It must save fuel, and after using other tractor brands for more than 30 years, now that I have experienced the Fendt I wouldn’t want to go back.”
The Fendt 724 will be used all year round as it has plenty of power for cultivation but is light enough for spreading and spraying the sensitive grassland.
The Fendt will work approximately 600 hours per year – more than the farm’s other tractors. “We can’t afford a big tractor just for cultivation, which remains in the shed the rest of the year,” said David. “Previously, we had dedicated tractors for specific tasks, but now the Fendt will take over most of the work. Keeping them will give us extra flexibility, but they will work fewer hours.”
The Fendt came with a full LED lighting pack, and David said that having experienced the benefit – he would now consider it an essential feature. The specification is quite comprehensive, but automatic climate control isn’t included as standard.
More Comfort and Less Tiring
“It’s obvious that Fendt thought carefully about users when designing the 724 Vario and the new FendtONE controls. It cost a little more than the other tractors we considered, but I remain very pleased with our decision to buy it. It’s more comfortable and less tiring to operate during long working days, and managing the farm will be easier. Each job is automatically recorded by the FendtONE system, which will help with our environmental activities, and we will have no problems as we move towards adopting variable-rate seeding in future years.
“After using previous tractors for a few years, I’ve always felt the need to update them, but I’m confident that in 10 years’ time, I will still be just as enthusiastic about the Fendt 724 as I am now.”
Regarding his experience dealing with the Crawfords team, David said he remains extremely impressed. “When I’ve needed advice, their Product Demonstrator, Tom Power, has been excellent. He’s new to the role but has always provided a solution. These days, having technical specialists is essential to help customers get the best from the latest machinery, and clearly, Crawfords is happy to invest, which gives me reassurance for the future. When I’m looking for more new machinery, I will consult the Billingshurst depot team again.”
Farm manager David Ellin describes the backup from the Crawfords Billingshurst team as excellent, and he believes that he will be just as enthusiastic about his Fendt 724 in 10 years’ time as he is now.