Every three years a new fleet of tractors arrives at Salesian Agricultural College in Co. Limerick; this year it was a trio of Valtras which arrived on the farm.
One of the most impressive accomplishments of Valtra over the last few years is the way in which it has established itself as a quality brand in an already crowded market.
Under the AGCO wing
Having a large U.S corporation experienced in the dark art of brand management certainly helps, but there is still the need to cross the threshold of acceptability to a conservative audience.
The Finnish manufacturer has now reached that happy stage and a recent deal with the Salesian Agricultural College, Pallaskenry, Co. Limerick, underlines the arrival of Valtra as a serious contender in the mainline tractor market.
Yet, despite the many virtues of the brand, the purchase decision was based on a tendering process, won by Clarke Machinery of Co. Cavan.
Modern machinery a requisite for instruction
That does not mean that price is the only factor involved, the tractors will be used for both work on the farm and for the instruction of students, so they need to be up to date and represent the latest thinking in tractor design and construction.
So far, the three machines acquired have not disappointed on either front, Indeed, the machinery instructors who are working with them are full of praise for their latest tools.
The feature which was was most remarked upon is the Valtra GPS system which would appear to be something of a game changer in practical field work.
GPS a boon on Valtras
Agricultural engineering has many milestones and the advent of GPS systems is rapidly becoming recognised as another great leap forward, certainly, the advantages are becoming ever more apparent.
However, to gain the full benefit of GPS, it needs, ideally, to be used in conjunction with autosteer, according to Colm Egan, who was happy to demonstrate the capability of the largest of the new tractors, the Valtra T195.
This machine came factory fitted with both, along with headland management, although it still awaits the installation of the SmartTurn option which is being delayed due to ransomware attack suffered by AGCO last month.
Out in the field it becomes immediately obvious that the machine can indeed surpass the accuracy of the operator when it comes to covering the ground.
Yet it must be remembered that unless the software is informed of the presence of such things as water troughs, it will drive straight over them, the driver is by no means redundant.
The T195 is unashamedly a large tractor. One can sense its size when sat in the cab, It is the newest to the fleet and so has yet to be fully tested.
At the time of our visit, it had a Vicon twin disc with section control fertiliser spreader mounted, which it handled with ease and instantly communicated with via the ISOBUS connection.
It was also equipped with a Rossmore bag crane, another item new to the farm and this had also proved its worth, cutting out the need for a loader to be on hand and generally making the loading operation far more efficient.
The other two tractors are a N175 and G115.
The N series is the next range down from the T series from Valtra. This is a four-cylinder model offering just 20hp less than the T195, yet it is a much smaller tractor and came with a factory fitted Quicke loader.
It is a prime example of the trend, amongst all manufacturers, towards increasing the power of mid-range tractors, while keeping the physical dimensions as small as possible.
A practical limit to power density?
This is, it is felt, a mixed blessing. Yes, it works very well on a diet feeder where power and manoeuvrability in a compact package is desirable, yet away from the yard there is the possibility that a tractor’s capabilities may outclass its stability.
Although this has not been an issue with the Valtras, there is an awareness that problems have occurred elsewhere with certain machines being found to be too light on the back end.
The operation of the loader is by electronic joystick, which marks a break from the cable operated unit in the previous John Deere.
Jeren Right is in doubt that the fly-by wire system is a massive improvement upon mechanical attachment. What he particularly appreciates is the proportionality of the control, along with the automatic up tick in engine revs when it is operated.
The overall impression, based on 15 minutes or so behind the wheel, is of a competent and nimble machine that, although it will never match the performance of a dedicated material handler, it won’t be left far behind.
New G Series
The third, and smallest of the trio, is a 115hp model from the company’s new G series, which slots in between the A and N ranges, a necessary addition, for more segments are required to cover the power spread as tractors get bigger.
On the day, this was coupled to a 2,300gal slurry tanker with dribble bar which was being used for tractor handling assessments.
Dribble bars, with their associated need for a higher forward speed and a power sapping macerators, have found many tractors of this size wanting when added to existing tankers.
Power to cope
Shane Ryan, who was working with the students, reports that no such problems have been encountered with the Valtra, it just digs in and gets on with the job.
However, he also notes that they have had a dry spring and so ground conditions were never particularly challenging, thus easing the load on the tractor.
He also mentions that the students adapt to it well and are quite at home with the modern working environment of screens and switches found in the Valtras, rather than dials and levers, adding that many would be confounded by sticks poking up from the transmission and quadrants tucked down the side of the seat.
Hobsons (good) choice
It has already been mentioned that the decision to go with Valtra was as much a financial one based on fulfilling the stipulations of a contract than it was a management decision arrived at after considering the options.
Yet the college is not at all disappointed with the Valtras, coming to view them as representative of the most up to date technology and they are working well as teaching tools.
The brand was unfamiliar to the staff and yet they have taken to the machines with a good deal of enthusiasm that certainly came across as genuine.