An established Claas user David Fox was asked in 2010 to try out one of the company’s prototype Axion 950 tractors
Running his agricultural contracting business from his base in Messingham Common, Scunthorpe, north Lincolnshire, David Fox needs his machinery fleet to be reliable, and on his local dealer to fix it quickly if things do go wrong. An established Claas user, he was asked in 2010 to try out one of the company’s prototype Axion 950 tractors, and he was so impressed that when it went back he was one of the first to place an order for the full production machine. David Williams reports.As well as contract farming 600ha (1,500 acres) for neighbour Norman Jackson Farms, for which he carries out most field operations, David also grows 40ha (100 acres) of his own potatoes and contract-plants 120-140ha (300-350 acres) for local farmers, harvesting them too. He runs two forage harvesters with which he harvests maize, mainly for AD plants, and poppies. Most harvesting is carried out within a 20-mile radius of the company’s base and this year 1,000ha (2,500 acres) of maize has been cut, significantly up on last year. “The number of AD plants is growing and we have seen a significant increase in the amount of maize we are asked to harvest in recent years,” he says. “Our season starts off harvesting approximately 1,000ha of poppies, grown to produce morphine, and then we are into the maize.”Two Claas Jaguars, an 830 and a 950, are operated; the 950 running a 10-row Claas header and the 830 being mainly concentrated on the poppies, but with even more maize likely to be cut next year, David is already thinking in terms of replacing the 830 with a second 950.As well as the Claas Jaguars, an Arion 630 and three Arion 640s are operated, together with the larger Axion. A Claas Scorpion 6030 telehandler is used for materials handling. “The first Claas product we purchased was a Targo K50 forklift in about 2003, and at that time we were running another brand of tractor,” explains David. “The Targo performed well, but broke down regularly, and it was the poor reliability that made us realise just how good the back-up from our local dealer RW Marsh, and from Claas, really was. Throughout the time we had the machine when anything went wrong the dealer was with us immediately and fixed it and never left us stuck for a machine. At the same time Claas UK did everything it could to help, and never washed its hands of it, whatever went wrong. I was incredibly impressed, and I swapped two of the tractors we were running for a Claas Ares 826, which was basically a green Renault, and one of the first Axion 810s, both supplied by RW Marsh. Six months later we needed an additional tractor and bought an Ares 697. The 697 was very different to the previous two tractors, and was the first in which we could really see that Claas had been involved in its design, with some useful new features.”At that time our area salesman was Chris Rothery, who has now retired, and for the past five years or so we have been looked after by John Bell. The way both of them look after customers is spot-on.”Successful trials
In 2009 the Axion 810 was replaced by an Axion 850 and then, in 2010, David was asked to test the prototype Axion 950. It was a very early prototype and under the bonnet were lots of wires all attached to different monitors and sensors, and David Fox’s machinery operator Peter Dawson comments the cab had little in the way of insulation and was noisy and hot. The tractor was heavily disguised as an Axion 850 on dual wheels; 710s on the rear and 650s on the front, and Peter says it had plenty of power and gripped well pulling a 5-leg Cousins subsoiler working down to 16-18 inches with ease even after heavy rain; working with a Simba Solo, and spending several hundred hours pulling a Gregoire Besson Discordon. “We didn’t manage to break it at all,” reports Peter. “There was a Claas development engineer with us almost every day while we were using it and it impressed us that as well as thoroughly monitoring the tractor’s performance he was also keen to find out about our impression of the machine and hear comments regarding aspects of the design.”In 2011, the Ares 697 and 826 were traded in for a pair of Arion 640s, Claas UK’s most popular model, and in 2012 the Axion 850 was replaced by a new Axion 920 following the impressive trials of the prototype Axion 900 series tractor. Because the new Axions were not yet in full production a pre-series tractor was supplied, one of a limited number built before full production commenced but to final specification and layout. “We got on well with the pre-series and worked more than 1,500 hours,” comments David, “but in March 2013, when the new 900 series tractors were in full production, Claas swapped the two over and in its first six months it has worked in excess of 600 hours, and is proving excellent.”The most recent addition to David’s fleet is another Arion 640, purchased primarily with transport of maize silage in mind, to work with one of the 10 Bailey trailers needed to keep up with the Jaguars.
“What really impresses me about Claas is that the people there want to be involved,” explains David. “I like the Claas relationship and it has been obvious since we started dealing with the company that it was serious about getting in to the tractor industry and was prepared to do what was needed to make its products a success. Now I can’t speak highly enough about its whole range of products and staff.
“Our Scorpion is superb too, totally reliable and completely different to the earlier Claas handler we had. The new models introduced recently appear better still with some added features, but even our machine at three years old is over-engineered and a very good tool. They are not cheap, but are well worth the extra over lesser brands,” he adds.Unbeatable back-up
Asked whether he considered any other makes of forage harvester before investing in his two Claas Jaguars David said he didn’t as he felt it was a market Claas knew well and, apart from that, he wouldn’t have felt comfortable relying on any other company to provide the same level of back-up. “We have five key dealers close to us, but there is only one I would guarantee would be able to get an engineer out to me if needed at 10-oclock tonight. As a contractor, even out of the harvesting season our machinery often works 24 hours per day, and we have 40-50 clients relying on us to keep the work going. Having Claas UK at Saxham is very reassuring. If there is any way to obtain a part they will find it and during harvest, when the Harvest Express service operates, if we have missed the cut-off for ordering we have had parts delivered by taxi all the way from Germany. The service is unbeatable.”
John Bell is based at the Brigg branch of RW Marsh and looks after the north Lincolnshire sales area from Louth up to the Humber and his customers are mainly cereal and rape growers, although the area of maize grown is increasing rapidly. John says the feedback he gets from users about the current Claas product range is very positive. “All the products surpass expectations and offer everything the competition can and more, and I have no worries putting one of our demonstrators up against anything else. I am looking forward to having the new Axion 800 tractors available as they mirror the 900 series and although we won’t have the CMatic CVT versions for a while they will fill the gap we have currently in the range since the previous model was phased out. The Scorpion is a good machine and users remain loyal, rarely moving away from the brand once they have owned one, and the new Arion tractors with the recently-announced CVT will be available during 2014, and will appeal to vegetable and potato growers.”The dealer is part of the Marsh and Seward group which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Claas. There are seven branches within the group which looks after the Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire trading areas for the manufacturer.John says the quality of after-sales service back-up is key to the group’s success and popularity; “I sell the first tractor, but our service department keeps the farmers coming back to us when it is time to update,” he explains. “Our service manager John Gillett has the attitude that if a job can be physically completed in one day, then he wants it cleared so that the next day he is starting off with a blank sheet.”Peter says the interest taken in the products by the dealer is reassuring. “Often we will be working in the field on the foragers and the dealer’s service van just turns up in the field. If they are passing they will call in and check we have no issues needing attention, and that is not something we have experienced elsewhere.”On the day that Farmers Guide visited Hollywood Farm the Axion 920 was ploughing with a 7f Dowdeswell reversible plough, although more frequently it is used with a 7f Gregoire-Besson which has full hydraulic adjustment of almost every setting from the cab. The tractor was ordered with five hydraulic spool valves and with large diameter 710-70-42 rear tyres and 600-70-30 fronts. “The pre-series tractor was on smaller diameter tyres and we used to find the pick-up hitch catching at times when ploughing, particularly on wet potato land which is why we were keen to have as much ground clearance as possible when we ordered our own,” he explains. The 920 is the first that the company has owned equipped with RTK and auto-steer, which David finds aids efficiency on cultivation tasks.Comfortable and versatile
“The Axion is comfortable, quiet and easy to operate,” comments Peter. “The Cebis screen is used to set up the transmission, hydraulics, headland management system and automatic steering and being fully-integrated it works well, with no bugs or problems. I can be in the cab 16-18 hours per day and it is certainly a help to me. Visibility is good too. For a big tractor it doesn’t feel particularly large when you are in the seat but standing beside it, it is an impressive machine.”David agrees; “It is so easy to operate that we use it for similar general tasks to the smaller Arions- it is very versatile. It’s good on the road too, and although we didn’t opt for the top-specification operator seat, the ride is good, even on bumpy surfaces.”Peter says carrying out daily checks takes just 5-10 minutes, even when working in dry dusty conditions and the engine and cab filters need cleaning. “It is well designed, everything is easy to get to, and the 600-hour service interval means there is little downtime,” he says.The 920 is David’s first tractor to need Adblue and he says that initially it was an inconvenience; “We had to buy it and store it just for the Axion,” he says, “but now that it is on other machines too, we are properly equipped to handle it and there just isn’t a problem. The Axion holds 60 litres which is plenty to last two full days of hard work during the summer but when it is used for transport and in cooler weather it uses much less.”Fuel is a significant expense for David but he comments that the Axion is very efficient; “We use approximately 45 litres of diesel per hectare when working with the 3.5m Sumo Trio,” he says. “That is pretty good, and part of the reason for this is the FPT engine’s ability to pull well at low revs which is saving us money. As with our other Claas machines, we bought the tractor with a service contract from Marsh, so we know just what we will be paying.”Peter says that despite having several options available through the Cebis system for managing the engine and gearbox during work, most of the time he finds auto provides the best performance; “I find it hard to beat for work rate and economy so tend to let it make the decisions for itself,” says Peter, “although the joystick is handy for shunting on the headlands.””We do try other makes of tractor,” says David, “as we are interested to keep an eye on what else is available, but the Claas products ‘feel right’. For an operator you can’t beat the package and the back-up we receive from Marsh is incredible. We regard the dealer’s after-sales department as the fourth emergency service.” David Fox is pictured (left) with local dealer RW Marsh salesman John Bell. “The service we receive from Claas and from our local dealer is unbeatable,” says David.