A great working environment, generous specification and versatile performance tempted a mid-Suffolk arable farm to return to Massey Ferguson and dealer after more than 50 years. David Williams reports.
Selecting the right main line tractor is an important decision for the Mahony family, which trades as R&D Mahony, based at Hollybush Farm, Rattlesden. Complemented by a selection of older, less powerful tractors it is usually replaced every six to eight years and carries out most cultivation and drilling, making the most of available weather windows on the heavy clay soils.
Approximately 135ha is owned and a further 95ha contract-farmed, and almost all the work is carried out by Peter Mahony (pictured), the 4th generation of the family to farm the land, and his father Richard. Soils are mainly heavy clay with a few lighter areas and the slopes of a shallow valley create challenging conditions in the wet. Crops include wheat, winter and spring barleys, oilseed rape and sugar beet.
Most land is ploughed and cultivations are by an Amazone Cenius – used for oilseed rape establishment and to pull up oilseed rape stubble ready for wheat drilling if conditions allow, and a mix of other traditional cultivators. A power harrow is used only if working conditions leave no other option. A Weaving Tine Drill establishes cereals.
“We can’t afford poor reliability or back-up,” explained Peter. “The main tractor does almost all the land work and needs to be available when conditions are suitable for working.”
The main tractor is bought new for the warranty and dealer back-up. Delivery is usually just before harvest so it is available for corn carting and post-harvest cultivations. Last year, increasing reliability issues affecting the 160hp machine meant a replacement was sought after 5 years and just 2,500 working hours, bringing the update forward.
Three possible replacements were considered based on brand, and back-up from main dealers. “The farm used to buy all its machinery from the local Massey Ferguson main dealer, Thurlow Nunn Standen (TNS), but the closest depot closed causing us to look at what else was available,” explained Peter. “However, we know TNS has an excellent reputation and other farmers recommended we consider Massey Ferguson again, so we included a 7700 series model in our shortlist. We had demonstrations of all three under consideration and used them to plough for a day each and the 175hp Massey Ferguson 7718 Dyna-6 really impressed with its performance and comfort, both of which are helped by its long wheelbase. Our previous tractor struggled for traction and got through a set of rear tyres in under 2,000 hours, so we regarded optimal weight distribution a priority, also allowing reduced ballast.
“We were worried that a penalty of the long wheelbase might be poor manoeuvrability but it was just as good as the other brands,” he added.
The Mahony’s previous tractor had a six-speed manual transmission with four powershift steps and Peter wanted to get away from that kind of set up, particularly for corn carting where meeting cars on narrow lanes meant removing hands from the steering wheel to change gear. “The Massey Ferguson has manual changing using the joystick, or full auto and change points can be optimised for field tasks,” he said. “It’s really easy and we took to it immediately. When you are concentrating on watching the road or an implement in the field, it’s a help knowing the joystick is always in the same place, no matter which gear is selected, so there is no need to look or stretch for the control.”
Other features which appealed were the level of technology included, which Peter felt would help optimise efficiency, and the large cab with easy access and plenty of leg room.
He describes the controls as well laid out and sensibly grouped, and especially likes the joystick buttons. “Although I drive the tractor most of the time, sometimes others have to use it and the Massey Ferguson’s controls are logical and easy to use in manual mode,” he said.
Thurlow Nunn Standen was keen to re-establish itself as the farm’s tractor supplier after a break of approximately 50 years since a 135 was ordered in the 1960s, and regional sales manager Matt Boardley, who looks after sales from the dealer’s Melton, Hinderclay and Kennett branches, put together an attractive deal. An ex-demonstration 7718 Dyna-6 Exclusive spec was ordered and delivered in late 2017.
Farmers Guide visited the farm to find out how the tractor was performing after a few weeks’ use and again following spring drilling, and Peter remained very enthusiastic. “We ploughed after the beet harvest and it handled our 5f reversible on slippery ground with ease,” he said. “Its digital draft control is excellent, incredibly responsive, and functions we haven’t had before like being able to set spool valve timings made headland turns easier. The depth control dial seemed to me to be back to front, but didn’t take long to get used to.
“All the controls are just where they should be and I really like the joystick buttons which are comfortable to use and easy to identify without having to look. Additional buttons on the b-pillar include the lights, 4wd, diff lock and auto-steer, and are easily identifiable,” he added. “The fully adjustable steering wheel and column allow ideal positioning and the joystick armrest is adjustable to suit the user. Climate control works well and Bluetooth phone connection and a good radio means long days are no problem.”
Comfort and visibility
Comfort is highly praised. “Adjustable cab suspension, with hard, soft and automatic settings is effective and, combined with the air seat and front axle suspension, makes it very comfortable. I tend to leave the cab suspension set to auto and the front axle suspension adjusts well for varying loads so the tractor remains steady and well balanced as heavy rear implements are lifted out of work. It’s much better than our previous tractor’s front suspension which caused it to nod during low-speed shunting, making it tricky to hitch implements to the rear link arms.”
Visibility is generally good, especially forward, and large rear view mirrors are described as excellent on the road, with electric adjustment allowing repositioning after brushes against hedges. A mirror supplied on the rear window gave a view direct down to the hitch, but as the hitch extends for coupling this wasn’t needed and was removed. An internal rear view mirror only tilts downward so is suitable for road travel without a trailer, but unsuited for monitoring the trailer’s grain level during combine unloading.
Large rear mudguards partially obscure the view to the sides but Peter acknowledges that, with large tyres fitted, they have to be wide to be effective. The rear view is satisfactory, but compromised by the small opening section between the curved glazed side panels, as well as a large wiper motor.
Noise levels are exceptionally low – partly due to the six-post cab design points out Massey Ferguson, and the transmission is almost silent apart from a slight whine when pulling hard in ‘E’ gear.
PTO and hydraulics are easy to set up with all four PTO speeds selected by push button. Hydraulic oil flow control and timing is set up through the Datatronic screen but Peter says selecting ‘float mode’ for the valves is more complex than it should be. “When I am drilling and need the spools to operate in float mode for the markers, a double click with clicks exactly a second apart is needed on the joystick, which can be tricky. Selecting float is also complicated through the hydraulic control levers, which require a trip on top of the lever to be depressed, then pushed forward. Float mode is a function we use a lot and it should be easier to select,” he added.
Optimal set up
The Datatronic screen sets up almost all operating parameters and Peter said the range of adjustments is far more than he needs most of the time. “It’s really easy to use, the menus are simple and logical, even though they seem daunting at first.
Having played with the screen for a few minutes it became easy to understand how the design team had thought it out,” he commented. “Being able to set up each implement and store settings in the memory is useful, and saves time when swapping jobs.”
At speed and on uneven ground Peter said the control buttons are fiddly, making it easy to press the wrong button. “Usually I just stop to make changes now, and it’s very quick and easy anyway,” he pointed out.
The screen is also used to set up and operate autosteer, a function not used currently, but a potential area for future investment.
The Dyna-6 transmission is also highly thought of. It is a semi-powershift with six speeds in four gear ranges (24×24), ensuring smooth changes and efficient operation through generous speed overlap. Operation is manual or fully automatic and gear and range changes can be made under full load. Eco mode is standard, ensuring maximum performance at minimum revs and including 50kph at 1,850rpm, and the Power Control power shuttle lever also includes gear shifting and clutch functions.
“Being able to set the transmission for each task is proving an advantage and not only improves comfort and efficiency – we think it will also help save money,” observed Peter. “For drilling we set the drive take up to aggressive, otherwise a brief pause between gears means the metering wheel almost stops, resulting in the seed flow being paused. But for ploughing we adjust for a smoother change, reducing shock loads on the tractor and implement.”
Active Stop allows combined clutch and brake activation, just by depressing the brake pedal and Peter believes this will be a benefit, especially for corn carting, making it easy to pull away from junctions as soon as traffic is clear.
Additional features including ‘go to gears’ proved easy to set up and he found pre-selecting different gears for forward and reverse travel made headland turns easier and quicker.
Engine performance and fuel economy has also proved good and Peter said the high torque means he can avoid changing down to maintain low engine revs even during heavy pulling. An engine speed memory button on the joystick is used frequently, allowing an immediate return to the pre-set speed after each headland turn.
Although the farm doesn’t monitor all fuel use, an average 4.8-litres/ha during drilling using the PTO Eco mode is considered excellent. The fuel tank has plenty of capacity for a day’s heavy work and Adblue is topped up at each fuel fill.
The rear end layout provides plenty of open space around the components making it easy to hitch and unhitch implements, and attach and remove hoses and cables. One complaint from Peter is the supplied hydraulic arm stabilisers which can be locked in a narrow position but can’t be fixed out wide. “It’s an issue when we need space to get in between the arms and connect trailer hoses,” said Peter, “and we will probably upgrade to automatic stabilisers this summer.”
He said daily maintenance is easily carried out and the engine oil dipstick is accessible. The front cooling pack is exceptionally easy to clean with space to get between the screens if needed, and Peter said a bonus is not having to bend hoses and cables out of the way for access.
The cab ventilation filter is on one side of the cab and easily removed for cleaning. The only criticism regarding routine maintenance is the rear axle oil level dipstick. “It’s between the hydraulic lift arm and transmission housing, and every time we check it we risk dropping dust down the hole,” he said. “It would be much better with a sight gauge, allowing quicker and cleaner checking.”
Main services will be carried out by TNS, and a long-term service plan was part of the negotiation which saw the Mahonys order the tractor. “We have a five year warranty which gives us great reassurance,” said Peter.
Matt Boardley said Massey Ferguson’s 7700 series tractors are proving extremely popular with his customers. “The wheelbase and balance allows users to make best use of the superb hydraulic lift capacity and the digital lower-link draft control ensures optimal traction.
“Impressive cabs mean the brand is recognised as having the best operating conditions, from the 5700S up. Anything that helps fix operating costs is popular and our 5-year, 6,000 hour full factory-backed warranty is excellent, with no excess to pay and it’s the longest from any manufacturer. It’s not just a paper warranty that’s offered though. In our experience Massey Ferguson is very easy to deal with and few claims are refused, which complements the TNS business which has been built on great service and support.”
Matt said all the Massey Ferguson range is reliable, from entry-level Global Series tractors to the 400hp 8700 series. “In the past some models weren’t as well respected as others but now there are none which aren’t up to spec,” he explained.
“I am delighted to have supplied the Mahony family’s new tractor as I am convinced it will serve them well. When we first discussed it a focus was the Kverneland plough which we supplied a few years ago. I felt the 7718 would be an ideal match and that its performance would be better than the other tractors being considered.”
“When we bought the plough following an on-farm demonstration Matt assured us that it would pull better than any other brand – and it did – so with ploughing a big part of the main tractor’s work we already had some confidence in his judgement,” added Peter.
Massey Ferguson area sales manager David Broad said the 7718 is the company’s top selling tractor for medium-sized arable and larger livestock farms and accounts for the most units supplied by TNS. “Dyna-6 is a tried and tested transmission which we introduced in 2005, but some of its design goes back 25 years or so and it’s incredibly efficient and reliable,” he explained.
“The 7700 series cab is a great favourite with users and the six-post construction contributes to the low noise level making it the quietest in its class. A further advantage of its design is that the side windows open which is a popular feature. It comes well-equipped including guidance-ready and the standard screen allows accuracy to RTK standards. Isobus is an option and added features such as the Power Control shuttle lever, probably one of our best-kept secrets, are popular with users.”
“One of our main concerns was the longer wheelbase over our previous tractor but we compromised for the extra performance we hoped to gain. Having had the tractor for six months and used it for late winter ploughing and spring seedbed preparation and drilling as well as trailer work, it has proved just as manoeuvrable and versatile as our shorter previous tractor. It’s got 125 hours on the clock, fuel economy from the low-revving engine seems very good and we expect it to improve as it runs in.
The tractor came on wide Michelin tyres which attracted us for the premium brand, large footprint and grip but worried us as we felt they might be too wide for our plough furrow, but Matt assured us there would be no problem and there isn’t. The tyres perform well, put the power to the ground effectively and we believe they should last well.
“We have had only two minor issues; one is that a small piece of cab trim worked loose which was replaced quickly by the dealer and the other is that the diff lock sticks occasionally, but we believe this is just because everything is tight and new at the moment.
“So far we are really pleased with our decision. The 7718 is an ideal heavy draft tractor for our situation but suitable for lighter work too. We don’t expect any problems regarding reliability but if back-up is needed we know we can rely on TNS for support,” he concluded.
MF 7718 – Summary
- Superb balance and pulling ability
- Great manoeuvrability
- Excellent cab and front axle suspension
- Low revving, high torque engine
- Flexible gearbox with great overlap between gears
- Low fuel consumption
- Quiet, comfortable cab
- High specification but really simple to use
- Flexible, efficient transmission
- Ease of carrying out daily checks
- Small back window with slight obstruction to rear view
- Awkward rear axle oil level check
- Standard link arm stabilisers lack ability to fix wide
- Internal rear view mirror only tilts downward, preventing its use for corn carting
- Fiddly Datatronic screen controls, an issue on uneven ground
- Spool valve float control awkward to activate
R&D Mahony’s Massey Ferguson 7718 Dyna 6 Exclusive – Spec
Engine: Agco Power 6-cyl, 6.6 litre, 175 max hp (200hp with EPM), 744 Nm torque @ 1,500rpm
Transmission: Dyna-6 24×24 semi-powershift with manual and auto modes
Hydraulic linkage: (rear) Cat 3, 8.1t max capacity (front) Cat 3, 3.2t max capacity
Hydraulic flow: Load sensing pump, 4 electric rear and 1 front spools, 110-litres/min flow rate
Tyres: 650/65R38 rear and 540/65R28 fronts
Productivity: Isobus fitted/Autosteer ready