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Depending on the location across the country, first-cut silage is well under way and thanks to the recent dry spell of weather, a lot of silage has been gathered. With a mixed weather forecast for the days ahead, it is an ideal time for contractors to check their loaders, helping avoid downtime when the weather picks up.

The first thing Martin highlighted was that contractors need to check when the machine was serviced last. Typically, these loading shovels have a basic service interval of 500 hours. The last thing any contractor wants is for something such as a fuel filter to give hassle when the pressure is on.

Many of the newer loading shovels come with reversible fans which help to keep dust and debris out of the machine’s radiator and engine. It is important that the reversible fan is checked to see if it is functional. Depending on the machine, the reversible fan can either be switched on from inside the cab or it may be set through an ECU, where it can be set to run one direction for a set period and another direction for another set period.

The cab filters should be replaced every time the machine is being serviced. If these filters are blocked, the air conditioning will not work to its potential (or at all). The starting price of a set of cab filters is around €80-€90 plus VAT. Martin said this is something that is often overlooked but it is important to have a good working environment.

The suspension system should be inspected to see if it is functioning. Many newer loaders are fitted with air seats. Often if the air seat isn’t working correctly it may be down to an air hose being disconnected from the air bag, a broken wire or a blown fuse. The four rubber cab mounts should also be inspected to make sure they are functional.

Constantly ensuring the loading shovel is clear of debris is one of the most important factors in keeping the machine trouble-free during the busy silage campaign. Some of the technology used in the newer loaders to meet the latest emission regulations produces a serious amount of heat. This constant heat from the regeneration process combined with dry grass poses a serious fire hazard. The panels should be opened and the areas around the engine, transmission, air filters and the battery should all be regularly blown out. Grass building up around the battery bay may also lead to shorts.

Many of the newer machines are equipped with auto greasers. If so, it’s important to note these don’t grease the entire machine. Martin said he encountered an example this silage season where the drive shaft went dry due to a lack of grease and snapped. When it comes to the pins and bushings, regular greasing will be the life of the machine. All hydraulic hoses and rams should be checked for damaged seals or perished hoses. Contractors should not overlook the fork. Whether it be folding or not with bolt-on or welded tines, it should be greased and the bushings and retention bolts should be inspected. Safety hazards such as brake lights, work lights, indicators and beacons should be all working. It is important that the tyres are in good condition, with no bulges, cuts or slits.

Based in Elphin, Co Roscommon, Derek Beirne runs an agricultural contracting service. The main services provided are baling and slurry handling within a 15-mile radius of his yard.

Since he started up in 2003, Derek has had Welger balers in the fleet, sticking with the brand which later became Lely. In more recent times, the Agco group acquired Lely’s forage division, with the well-known Lely Welger machines updated and rebranded in the red and green colours of Agco’s subsidiaries, Massey Ferguson and Fendt.

This was part of Agco’s effort to offer a full-line strategy to its customers. These Massey Ferguson balers still have a lot in common with the original Welger machines that have worked well for Derek and his team over the years.

Derek recently decided to upgrade his three balers – two Lely Welger Profi 245 balers and a McHale Fusion 2. Having clocked up 50-55 thousand bales on each of the Lely machines since buying new, he thought it was time to change up.

Two Massey Ferguson RB 3130F Xtracut balers replaced the two older Lely Welger Profi 245 balers and the recently launched RB 3130F Xtracut Protec combination baler replaced Derek’s older Fusion 2 baler. This was mainly down to the fact he wanted to stick with the one brand. This leaves Derek as one of the first contractors in the country to have taken delivery of the new generation combination baler/wrapper units from Massey.

Two variants of the Protec baler are available – the variable-chamber RB 4160V capable of making bales 0.90-1.60m in diameter and the fixed-chamber RB 3130F as notified by the V and F at the end of the models. The RB 3130F has a chamber capable of making bales 1.25m in diameter.

The baler is fitted with a 2.25m, five-tine-bar camless pickup. It is Derek’s first baler fitted with a camless pickup. He noted how quiet it runs as now each tine bar is in a fixed position in comparison to older pickups fitted with cam tracks. Two large 25cm diameter feeding augers on each side direct the crop to the centre of the baler. Derek said the short distance between the pickup tines and the rotor means there’s no dead spot for grass to sit in-between, allowing for a consistent crop flow through the pickup and rotor.

Just behind the rotor sits the Xtracut knife bank, equipped with two arrangements of hydraulically operated knife. The first bank is fitted with 13 knives while the second is fitted with 12. Each bank can be engaged individually or both may be engaged offering the full 25 knives to be in place for the shortest chop length possible. The machine can also be bought with a knife bank of 13 or 17 knives. The option is also available to disengage all knives if required. Derek operates his balers with one knife bank in place at any time, noting that longer sharpening intervals can be achieved this way. Each bank is swapped out after every 300 bales, meaning sharpening only needs to be carried out every 600 bales roughly. This flexible knife arrangement was the reason behind opting for the Xtracut feature on each of the three balers bought this year, explained Derek.

The balers are fitted with Massey’s two-stage Hydroflexcontrol protection system. Stage one sees automatic mechanical floor cushioning clear minor blockages. This allows the front part of the feed chamber floor to move. Stage two is the lowering of the hydraulically operated floor which allows major blockages to pass.

Inside the chamber are 18 Powergrip rollers, each manufactured from a seamless solid tube with 10 ribs on each roller to improve performance and durability. Each of Derek’s three balers is fitted with an automatic chain lubrication system and automatic greasing system supplying grease to roller bearings and other lubrication points throughout the baler.

Derek noted the baler is fitted with the same netting system as his previous Lely models, which always worked well. The fact the netting system is undercover and away from dirt and debris while travelling on the road is a big benefit for him as dirt cannot get caught up in the net tensioning system, creating problems with net infeed. The RB 3130F balers are not compatible with film binding, which most new balers are capable of today. This is a feature Derek would have liked to have on the balers, giving him the option if customers required it. Although has said this film-binding method will be available next year.

The RB 3130F Protec baler ejects bales at lower elevation angles, improving machine stability. The transfer arm features two active guiding plates directing bales to the centre of the wrapping table. The baler has a unique slope transfer mode, allowing the transfer arm to move more slowly while the wrapper ring is raised higher to receive the bale on hilly terrain. Derek commented on how smoothly bales transfer even on hills, not ending up on the wrapping table at an awkward angle.

The wrapping ring is driven by a set of two rubber rollers to reduce noise and ensure grip. The wrapping table has three belts, with two rollers and four side cones. Six film holders are located underneath each side panel, leaving the baler capable of carrying 14 rolls of film. Derek noted that the hinged film holder makes mounting rolls of plastic easier. All the wrapper’s functions can be manually controlled via the externally mounted control panel above the left mudguard, which leaves maintenance and changing of film rolls easier. The wrapping unit folds up in transport mode, reducing the baler’s overall length to 5.9m.

The RB 3130 Protec is seated on a 10-stud single axle shod with 620/55 R26.5 Alliance flotation tyres. Derek said that although the baler is only on a single axle, compared to other combination balers with tandem axles it is very well balanced behind the tractor, making it easy to pull. The 26.5in rims are a great help providing a large footprint, making wet conditions more manageable.

Having only put 500 bales through his new RB 3130F Protec, Derek said so far he is impressed with how the baler has performed: “A standout feature has to be the baler’s ability to take in grass regardless of the conditions, on top of this it seems to be easily driven.” He said that in the future he can see his other standard balers being changed for combination baler-wrapper units, because of reduced labour and the lower number of machines needed.

Agricultural contractor Philip Hughes of Hughes Agri runs a family business based in Ballinkillen, Co Carlow. The Hughes family carries out an extensive range of services from planting through to harvesting.

Hughes is one of the few contractors in the country to operate silage wagons, round balers and a self-propelled silage outfit.

Philip said: “The silage wagon is ideal. We can send it out to jobs alone, use it alongside the harvester if we are under pressure or use it as a trailer if we are stuck.”

The Hughes family operates a mixed fleet of tractors consisting of Claas, John Deere and one Valtra. Philip explained how they keep at least two fresh tractors, these being the primary workhorses and within warranty. Once the warranty is up, they are replaced.

“It’s hard to keep all machines fresh but we aim to keep two new tractors, Claas 650s, and use these as the workhorses. The older John Deeres are mainly used for trailer work but everything is maintained to a high standard and in good condition.”

Maize accounts for a large portion of the business and they recently purchased a new Samco 7100 six-row planter. This is the second six-row machine Hughes has owned, having run a four-row machine at the start.

Hughes Agri made the decision to upgrade the drill this year to the newer model having operated the old drill for 10 years. Philip noted that the main reason for change was down to the newer drills being more advanced, having had improvements made over the years.

“Ten years may seem old, but on average we would have planted 500 acres a year, so after 10 years the drill had only planted 5,000 acres which isn’t overly high,” said Philip.

The new 7100 drill gives the operator greater control of the machine from the cab, now having electrical control of the sprayer via its control terminal. More sensors throughout the drill monitor the planting process. These are a few of the changes to the new machine that allow it be more reliable and have an increased output when compared to the older model. A typical day would see on average 5.5 acres to 6 acres an hour planted, although ground conditions can often be the limiting factor.

“The drill itself rarely is an issue. It’s more often the ground conditions,” explained Philip. It is important to have a fine firm seedbed for planting.

When we caught up with Philip, he was planting 8200 variety seed at 40,000 seeds /acre with 100l of pre-emergence herbicide being applied per acre underneath the film. This is the first year Hughes Agri had the opportunity to use GPS and Autosteer while planting, having purchased the new Claas Arion 650 with Autosteer. This makes planting much easier, Philip noted.

Drilling started on 10 April, but more recently the lads have been planting around the clock with their new Claas Arion 650.

Two 12-hour shifts see the tractor continuously running. When the ground is suitable for planting, the opportunity cannot be missed, even if it takes means drilling around the clock to get the acres done.

“Both the tractor and drill are well kitted out with lights. We recently fitted the tractor with a light bar which was a massive improvement to visibility in the dark.”

The renowned Samco system was the brainchild of Sam Shine. The Adare, Co Limerick, man was the world’s first to develop a three-in-one machine to sow seed, spray the soil with pre-emergence herbicide and finally but most importantly lay a thin layer of degradable film over the seedbed, all in one pass.

The three-in-one planter was first invented in 1996. Since then the company has become an Irish manufacturing success story, with markets all over the globe. Samco also produces the degradable plastic as a part of the business.

The degradable films have a number of functions: pinholes allow trapped air to escape leaving the film to sit tight to the soil and retain moisture and heat within the soil to maintain an ambient environment. Finally, the pinholes weaken the film, allowing the plant to easily emerge through it. Different types of film have been developed to suit different needs and markets.

Samco now manufactures a maize storage solution called the BagPress, along with sub-soilers and other tillage equipment.

Today, two-row up to eight-row planters are available. The 7100 machine is a six-row folding model aimed at large farmers and contractor markets. The six-row machine is divided into three independent units allowing the drill to fold to a width of 3.2m.

Starting at the front of the drill, there is a rubber roller to consolidate soil, producing a firm seed bed. Behind this rubber roller are track eradicators to prevent deeper soil compaction in the seed row. These are sprung to allow for protection from objects such as stones.

Behind the track eradicators is the seeding unit. Six Kverneland Optima pneumatic seed units carry out the planting process. Seed is placed on the seed disc using vacuum, while two mechanical selectors can be adjusted to reduce doubling of smaller seeds on the disc and allow larger seeds to be sown without any changes to the seed unit. Each of the six seed hoppers is easily accessible using the walkways for ease of filling. Seed placement depth is adjusted manually on each drilling unit.

Philip was applying seed at a rate of 40,000 per acre. This rate information is provided on the seeder terminal along with seed rate per ha for each seeding unit, number of ha drilled per day, total number of ha planted, area per hour and the number of hours worked.

Sensors are fitted to each unit to alert the operator if a unit is empty or blocked, a must-have feature for Philip. Each film unit can be operated independently through the terminal to make use of the drill easier in angled parts of the field, while hillside adjustment is fitted as standard to provide accurate drilling on slopes.

Once seed is placed in the ground, next it is sprayed with pre-emergence herbicide. Philip explained how this new 7100 drill is fitted with an automatic spray system controlled from the cab. This spray system takes into account the forward working speed so it can regulate and spray the correct volume per acre as programmed, (100l/acre).

Spraying is automatically triggered above speeds of 0.2km/h. Spraying automatically starts and stops when the drill is lifted at the headlands.

The Spraylight terminal in the cab has several functions to inform the operator, which Philip said is much more intuitive on the new drill when compared to his older model.

“I can easily monitor remaining tank volume from the terminal, which wasn’t available on the previous drill. I can monitor each of the nozzles to ensure they are working, litres per minute, forward speed and spray pressure.”

Philip can view the sprayer’s manifold from the cab. This has six tubes, all with a rotating ball to indicate active nozzles. The ball will drop in the event of a blockage. The rear of the drill has another row of nozzles, which are directed to the outsides of each row of film. This allows the exposed soil between rows of film to be sprayed with the pre-emergence herbicide, so all ground is covered.

The front-mounted spray tank has a capacity of 1,200l, 200l rinse tank for cleaning out spray lines and a 10l tank for rinsing hands. Once full, this front tank acts as a ballast for the rear-mounted 3.8t planter, providing more grip to the front wheels.

The sprayer’s Hardi pump is PTO-driven,with pipes running underneath the tractor from the pump to the tank. All chemical mixing is carried out using the 40l induction hopper. The front tank has a bracket fitted with a road lighting kit and has the ability to carry 12 rolls of degradable film as well as bags of seed. Philip noted that while road travelling, he ensures the front tank is empty to save excessive tyre wear.

Once the pre-emergence herbicide is spread, the 5.5 micron degradable film is applied. The three film-metering units are easily accessible. Spring-loaded roll holder units place the rolls in the correct position. Spring-tensioned wheels with rubber tracks catch each side of the film, feeding it into position, which it maintains while working. This is one aspect Samco has improved immensely over the years, Philip noted, having had very few issues of plastic becoming loose.

Each side of the film metering unit has a disc. These discs are adjustable and open a channel 10cm deep in the soil. When the channel is opened the film metering unit is lowered, engaging the cut and bury plate or what’s known as the ‘spade’ covering the film at both ends of the headland to avoid wind getting under the film. Rear-mounted discs at either side cover the edge of the film, anchoring it in the soil. Philip explained that these discs are adjustable to allow more or less soil onto the film.

At this stage the maize is planted in an optimum warm humid environment before emerging a number of weeks later.

Although the majority of grass in Ireland is harvested using self-propelled forage harvesters, a large number of forage wagons are scattered around the country in both contracting fleets and farmers’ yards. Forage wagons still have a pivotal role in silage-cutting and under some circumstances suit better than forage harvesters, with a number of contractors across the country running multiple machines within fleets.

The Irish Farmers Journal met Martin Owens of IAM in the yard of Cork-based contractor Cronin Agri to look at pre-season maintenance checks that should be considered before the upcoming silage season to prevent breakdowns and ensure uptime. It goes without saying that the best approach is to follow guidance given in each individual machine handbook. The wagon we looked at was a Strautmann Giga-Vitesse CFS 3601.

Starting at the front, the pickup and chopping unit are arguably the most essential parts of any forage wagon to have in proper working order. Check for any loose or broken tines and tighten or replace if necessary as broken tines leave the remaining tines to pick up the slack, carrying the extra weight of grass.

Although the Strautmann CFS (continuous flow system) pickup system is camless, leaving maintenance easier due to fewer moving parts than standard pickups. Pickups with cam track, cam rollers and cam bearings should be inspected for wear and bearings replaced, if necessary.

Pickup wheels should be in good working order and bearings tight. Pickup wheels that are not set correctly may allow tines to catch and break in the ground or further damage the pickup. Chains and drive sprockets driving the pickup should be checked for tension and wear.

The main intake rotor comes under great pressure. It is important that the bearings on each side are in good condition and receiving a suitable level of grease as bearing failure can often lead to fire or other damage such as scoring of the rotor shaft. When inspecting the rotor, keep an eye out for scraping or scoring from scrapers. Rotors are hard to repair and expensive to replace so take particular attention in ensuring the rotor is in good working order.

Winter storage or a buildup of chaff can cause the knife banks and their moving parts to seize. Each knife has its own retaining spring and breakaway cam lob, which should be free-moving. Spraying with diesel helps to free up all stiff and seized parts. Each knife carrier must be tight and secure. Although other manufacturers’ chopping units may operate differently, the principle remains the same.

Blunt knives are probably the single biggest limiting factor to the output of any forage wagon, irrespective of size. It is safe to say unsharpened knives leave the wagon harder driven and cause the tractor to burn more diesel. So, before the season starts, remove all knives – 45 in the case of the Strautmann Giga-Vitesse. Once removed, inspect each knife and if worn or damaged replace them. Ensure that all knives are sharp and ready to go. If fitted with double-sided knives such as the Giga-Vitesse, ensure both sides are sharp. This will reduce downtime as 10 minutes will swap knives around without the need for any tools while on the go, achieving an optimum chop length for longer.

Most wagons use gearboxes to distribute power around the machine. Gearboxes are often easily forgot about but it is necessary to check each individual gearbox for its oil level and change interval (found in the operator’s manual), if overdue, drain oil and replace with the recommended oil from the manufacturer. If unsure, change it before the season starts for peace of mind.

The main gearbox will be subject to highest levels of strain, so check splines for wear, condition of bearings and oil seals. Keep in mind that gearboxes will often require different oil types.

It goes without saying to check all PTO shafts and shaft covers for damage. Wide-angle PTO shafts come under particular strain, so it is important to ensure each joint is receiving sufficient grease. Slip clutches should be checked over and in working order. Often, slip clutches can seize if not engaged for a long time.

Discs should be adjusted or replaced if needed, keeping in mind that tightness of the springs determine the torque required to engage the clutch. Some machines are fitted with a number of chains to transfer power. These chains should be checked for wear and that their degree of tension is as recommended, as chains stretch over time.

Loose chains can cause the chain to slip or jump off its drive sprocket, resulting in power loss. Check that oilers and chain greasers are all working properly, that no lines are blocked. Carry a few spare joiner links, possibly on the machine or in the tractor in case of a chain snapping.

Many of these machines spend a good deal of their working time travelling heavily laden on the road, so it is essential that brakes, tyres and lights are all in proper working order.

Check the condition and inflation pressures of all tyres, that there are no bad cuts or exposed canvas. All wheel bearings should be checked for movement and replaced, if necessary. Wheel bearing failure could result in loss of a wheel and potentially create untold damage.

All wheel nuts should be checked for tightness and torqued to the manufacturer’s guidelines. The general bogie should be given the once-over, ensuring everything is tight and as it should be, especially around its hinges where wear might be present from a lack of grease.

Forage wagons fitted with steering axles should be checked over for leaking ram seals and worn bushings. Check that the steering axle is locked once pressurised and unlocked when pressure is released. Brakes should be inspected and slack adjusted, if necessary, as good functioning brakes will save the tractors’ brakes.

All lights should be functioning and visible – bad connections should be rectified. Towing eyes should be checked for wear and replaced if worn. Towing eye failure can have serious consequences if the wagon becomes detached from the tractor. Ball-and-spoon hitches will not wear as quick as traditional towing eyes.

Check that floor slats are all straight and not bent or missing. If bent, straighten or replace them. Some manufacturers use self-tensioning systems. The Strautmann Giga-Vitesse uses a self-tensioning system. Although these tensioners are self-tensioning, it is no harm to check that they are not seized. It is important that each chain is tensioned equally and not having more of a pull on one side. This could possibly lead to strain or failure of the floor to move. Floor timbers are generally trouble-free, but check for missing or broken timbers.

If dry stored, control boxes and electrical connections should be in working order. Moisture can play havoc with electrical connections. Electrical contact spray helps remove moisture. Sensors throughout the wagon should be checked and functional before starting the season. The Strautmann chopping unit is fitted with a beam sensor to determine the location of its knife bank. Check that the beam is in line of sight with the receiver. All sensors should be free from obstruction as obstruction could possibly lead to inaccurate readings on the control box. Before taking the wagon out, run it up and ensure each function is working correctly from the cab.

With farmers getting busier and busier, often work such as bringing in bales one by one can be a painstaking task. We visited a Roscommon agricultural contracting business which offers farmers the entire service from mowing the grass to stacking the bales in the yard, and by doing so has expanded its business.

Kennedy Brothers, run by John and Tom Kennedy, have been drawing and stacking bales for farmers for many years. Up until 2017, they operated two bale trailers and two tractors, one with a front loader which was used to load and unload the bales.

After seeing a Keltec 10 pack working in a nearby contracting outfit, the brothers decided to purchase a new one for the 2017 season.

John noted that in 2017 they ran one Keltec 10 pack alongside one tractor with a front loader and a bale trailer. He said that in his experience the Keltec 10 pack was capable of shifting three loads of bales in the same time frame as the tractor and loader would load, transport and unload one load of bales.

The brothers explained that they were very happy with how the bale chaser performed in 2017 and that they opted to purchase a second unit in 2018, cutting out the need to run a second tractor and bale trailer and greatly improving productivity and throughput.

John commented that it’s important to have a good driver on the machine. He added that once the driver gets used to operating the 10 pack that it would typically take around three minutes to fully load the 10 bales on the machine and only a matter of seconds to unload it.

The 10 pack comes as standard on a tandem axle with a high-speed double-axle bogey system. The unit comes on 550-22.5 tyres but can be ordered on 560-22.5 as an optional extra. It uses a load-sensing brake system, meaning that it’s less severe on the brakes when the machine is empty.

Although the 10 pack unit is 8.4m long and 2.6m wide, John explained they never have any hassle getting it into fields

While in transport position, its auto-smart locking system for the bale cages means that it’s protected against hose failure, driver error or tractor malfunction. Although the 10 pack unit is 8.4m long and 2.6m wide, John explained they never have any hassle getting it into fields.

The brothers explained that the unit is built very strong. They added that it’s extremely steady on the road while fully loaded.

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The one negative point that they highlighted was that it has a lot of grease points, as there are a lot of hinge points and moving parts. They noted that they would like to see an optional auto greaser to make daily maintenance that bit easier and quicker.

The Kennedys typically charge on a per-bale basis. Price depends on the distance of the draw, but for the majority of local jobs they charge €2/bale dropped in the yard. In addition to dropping the bales in the yard, the brothers run a wheel loader in the yard with double soft hands, capable of stacking two bales at a time. The Kennedys charge €1 per bale for stacking. The starting price for a new Keltec 10 pack is €21,500 plus VAT.

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