A combination of high-yielding arable land and steep slopes mean the combine is under pressure every harvest
A combination of high-yielding arable land and steep slopes mean the combine operated by RN&M Lawton at North Farm, Aldbourne, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, is under pressure every harvest to make the most of available weather windows.
New Holland launched its latest flagship, the CR1090, in autumn 2014 and farm manager Christopher Grassam, who has been operating the brand at North Farm since the early 1980s, was quick to see how the new model’s 652hp maximum output would benefit his operation. David Williams visited the farm to find out how the machine is performing.
North Farm is just north of Marlborough, on the Downs and the soils range from easy working chalk to clay with flint as well as some shallow soft loam over chalk, with large numbers of flints taking their toll on wearing parts and tyres. There are also sarsen stones, of similar material to Stonehenge nearby, which make leg protection on cultivation equipment essential. “They don’t break,” explained Christopher, “and range in size from boulders to smaller stones, but if they go through a combine the stones remain in one piece, so it is essential that they are removed from the fields as soon as they are noticed. The stones are a problem for us, but it is mainly our height above sea level – up to 850ft – and topography which are the main limiting factors.”
Approximately 1,400ha (3,450 acres) of combinable crops are grown, including oilseed rape, winter barley and winter wheat as well as oats and beans, and there are also 200ha (500 acres) of grassland producing forage for dairy and beef farms, the grass used in a rotation to help the fight against black-grass. The cropping is a mix of owned land and land farmed under a management agreement. Approximately a quarter is ploughed each year with the remainder of crops established in a min-till regime.
The farm has been using New Holland combine harvesters since 1983, when Christopher became manager, and changed from its previous brand. “We purchased two TF42s, mainly because they offered the first self-levelling sieves, and kept them for eight years, changing one every four years,” he said. “We moved to 4wd, when it became available approximately 15 years ago, and then to tracks on our last combine, a CR9090 which made a considerable difference.
Farm manager for RN&M Lawton, Christopher Grassam, was the first UK farmer to order the latest New Holland flagship, and he explained that the combination of good soils resulting in high yields, and some very steep slopes have always meant that for the farm’s combines, power has been the limiting factor.
Header size when I started here was 5.2m, and we moved up to 7.2m, then to 9.0m, next to 10.5m and we now have 12.5, but because the earlier headers didn’t tilt to match the terrain, they limited us significantly. Tilting headers made a big difference, despite having to be adjusted manually at first, but it just wouldn’t be possible to operate the wider headers of recent years on our land, without the automatic contour following which works well, and which we tend now to take for granted.”
The combine is driven by machine operator David Pusey with Christopher taking over sometimes in the evenings. “I have always felt that experienced combine operators will select a comfortable working speed, depending on the conditions, so it is important to match the header width to the power available, for the usual operating speeds,” said Christopher. “Certainly I felt that the CR9090 was underpowered on our land with the 10.5m header, particularly when chopping, but the new CR1090 offered not just more power, but also a significantly larger engine, and the wider 12.5m header was the obvious choice.”
Using all the power available
An FPT Cursor 16, 15.9-litre engine, developing just under 600hp at rated output and its 652hp maximum at just 2,000 rpm, powers the CR1090. On the day Farmers Guide visited, the combine was harvesting oilseed rape on some steep slopes, and the comprehensive performance monitors showed that almost all the available power was being used, with up to 115 per cent of rated power demanded when harvesting uphill, the requirement reducing to 60 per cent when travelling down the slopes. “No matter what size engine we have we will always find situations to make it work hard, but this one has plenty of reserve; its engine is 4-litres larger than that of our previous machine, and when the demand increases it just digs in, easily maintaining the rotor speed, said Christopher.”
He suggested that the Dynamic Feed Roll (DFR), standard on the CR1090, but an option on smaller CR models, makes a big difference, and contributes to the combine’s performance. This provides a smooth transition of the crop from feeding to threshing and ensures a constant feed rate is maintained to the rotors. “On previous machines, without the system, the operator was aware of uneven feeding at times but, in our barley and rape this year, everything ran smoothly and evenly. It was a great improvement and allowed us to increase the rate of intake. Every year the crop is different, but last year we were achieving harvesting rates of 50t/hr in the barley and this year we easily managed in excess of 60t/hr. The barleys came off well, at an average of 9.5t/ha this year, but I am sure most of the extra throughput was due to the design and capacity of this machine. I am confident that once we get on to the wheats, provided the conditions are good, we will see throughputs of 100t/hr,” he added.
Another benefit of the DFR is that a conventional stone trap is fitted, allowing non-stop operation. Without the DFR the combine must be stopped each time a stone is intercepted, and the feed elevator reversed while the trap empties, but the conventional trough holds the trapped stones until the operator chooses to empty them, reducing downtime.
The CR1090 also has New Holland’s OptiFan system, which adjusts the airflow through the sieves to compensate for slopes. David said it performed very well in the barley, reducing losses on the undulating land but that for the lighter oilseed rape, on the steepest slopes, it was found to be beneficial to use another of the CR’s features. “We can use OptiFan on most of the land,” he explained, “but on the steepest slopes, when harvesting rape, we use the automatic sieve adjustment to compensate instead. This lets us select two alternative sieve settings using buttons on the control panel, and we have one pre-set for the sieves almost closed and the other for them further open, and use these when travelling up and down the slopes, opening them wider when travelling uphill so the seed can easily drop through. The system automatically adjusts the fan speed to suit. We don’t get such a clean sample from the combine, but it is cleaned before it enters the store anyway and it means we don’t lose the crop out of the back.”
Header follows contours
The 12.5m header selected by the farm is the widest available from New Holland, and incorporates bed depth adjustment from the cab as well as automatic contour following. Some farms have taken advantage of the wide header to move to controlled traffic farming, equipping the combines with an extra long 10m unloading auger allowing tractors and trailers carting corn to travel along-side the combine on established tramlines but Christopher explained that, where straw isn’t chopped, the priority is to maintain the swath in good condition ready for baling, and the farm’s CR1090 is equipped with an auger to match the header width, allowing the tractor and trailer to travel between the header and the straw row.
The farm has its own RTK transmitter, used for almost all field operations including the combine steering. From the combine cab, it was easy to understand why this is essential to get the most from the 12.5m header, and it was kept at full capacity at all times, with no crop missed.
Most heavy cultivations on the farm are carried out by a rubber-tracked tractor and Christopher said the availability of tracks has made a dramatic improvement to the performance of his combines. “They give us several advantages,” he said. “The flints we have shred conventional tyres, and the key is to achieve the minimum amount of slip which helps prevent the damage.
On loose soils, and especially on our slopes, tracks are very sure-footed, even in damp conditions. Our previous combine was the first we had on tracks, and we were going to opt for a driven rear axle too, but were assured by our dealer that this wasn’t necessary. The tracks provide excellent grip and there is hardly any slip at all, so we were happy ordering the CR1090 without rear axle drive too and, on its 30in tracks, it is proving equally capable.”
The combination of the large header, which weighs almost 4.5t, and the steep slopes, have meant the rear wheels of the new combine have had to be ballasted, to ensure adequate grip for turning and for rapid header response, particularly when travelling downhill.
David had spent almost 50 hours operating the machine at the time of the visit, and said he is very impressed with the new combine. “The larger header does take some getting used to,” he said. “It is only 5ft wider, but that makes a surprising difference, especially with our undulating ground. The first crops to be harvested this year were on some of our most difficult fields but, with all the features to help such as the automatic contour following, the combine performed well, and the RTK made it easy to keep the header full, including in the rape where seeing through the high crop to the edge would have been impossible.”
Everything about the CR1090 is impressive, including its unloading performance – it is capable of emptying its 14,500-litre tank at a rate of up to 142 litres/sec. However, the unloading rate can be changed using adjustable slats over the tank’s cross-conveyor and David said these have been set to restrict the flow, as there is just no need for anything faster.
David said most of the oilseed rape has been harvested between 4-6kph and he explained that the new pulse joystick is excellent, getting the most from the transmission, and allowing quick and precise control of the travel speeds, making small adjustments when necessary. The cruise control works well too, with the ability to pre-set two speeds. In the rape I have one set at 4.0kph and the other slightly faster, and select between the two depending on density of the crop. We have been harvesting the oilseed rape at up to 7.5kph,” he explained.
Christopher agreed that this is a very useful feature. “The dual-speed cruise control allows us to maintain output in variable crops by selecting known speeds to suit the conditions,” he said.
The combine is also equipped with an automatic speed control system; IntelliCruise, which adjusts the speed to suit the crop load. “It works well, and can be relied upon to maintain performance in most conditions,” said David, “although on the steepest slopes this feature is less useable due to the topography, and in those situations we adjust the speed manually.”
According to David, the cab of the previous CR range was excellent, but the latest version is even better. He said the general layout is improved with all the controls falling naturally to hand, and the relocation of some of the function switches has made a big difference to ease of use.
The main control joystick is totally different to that of the previous model, incorporating more of the main functions, a selector switch on the reverse side used to select the operating modes of the main switches. The main header control button is a 4-way rocker switch, and one of its primary functions is raising and lowering the header. David said the switch operation isn’t as intuitive as it could be, as the header ‘raise’ and ‘lower’ function buttons are offset at 45 degrees, rather than ‘raise’ being at the top, with ‘lower’ directly below, so some care was required initially until he was used to its operation.
Economy and maintenance
The CR1090 has a 1,300-litre fuel tank, but with catchy weather having prevented any full days of operation, its capabilities in terms of continuous operation hadn’t been tested fully. However, Christopher said that his experience so far suggests the machine will easily work more than 12 hours without requiring refuelling and that Adblue consumption appears to be modest, the machine having used approximately 30-40 litres per day in the oilseed rape and barley. “The 200-litre Adblue tank provides plenty of capacity,” he commented, “so even when we get into wheat, when we expect consumption to be up to 50 litres per day, filling the Adblue tank won’t be a daily chore.”
Servicing, he said, is straightforward with all regular checks easy to carry out and with just four grease nipples needing daily attention, the combine takes little time each morning to be ready to start work.
TH White Ltd area sales representative Ryan Lanfear, looks after the farm account and took the order for the new combine. He said he feels the CR1090 is ideal for the task at North Farm. “With the power available it copes easily with the steep slopes while maintaining crop throughput and the latest cab and driver aids make it easier to use.
David (left) is pictured with TH White area sales representative, Ryan Lanfear, who looks after the farm account.
The latest CR models, launched last year, are worlds apart from the first CR combines and we know that we can turn up on a farm with our demonstration machine, and it will perform well, whatever the crop and conditions. In my opinion, the biggest attraction is the Dynamic Feed Roller on the elevator, which is making a significant difference to performance and boosting capacity. Low losses, excellent reliability, reasonable running costs and a very good grain sample are all characteristics users are looking for and all the CR machines I have out on farms are providing these benefits.”
Ryan commented that White’s Marlborough depot, from where he operates, has already supplied three of the latest models including two CR990s and the CR1090, and is currently offering demonstrations in the area with its CR980 demonstrator. Other branches in the dealer group have also supplied the latest models. “All the current range of New Holland kit is excellent,” he added. “The design and build quality are superb and this is reflected in the decline in warranty costs, despite more machines being sold. The increasing popularity of the range is also demonstrated by the number of competitor brands we are taking in part-exchange. New features such as telematics are proving popular too, and the two CR combines sold by me, as well as our demonstrator, are all equipped with the system making it easy to check their locations, and to remotely diagnose faults.”