A Norfolk-based farmer who started changing his main tractor fleet from a competitor manufacturer to Fendt backed up by Thurlow Nunn Standen (TNS) eight years ago, says that there is no reason to run any other brand.
Trading as A Markillie Ltd, the Markillie family has farmed between Wisbech and Kings Lynn since 1943. Over the decades the business has grown, and now approximately 1,200ha is farmed which is a mix of the family’s own land and some which is contract-farmed. Soils are mainly silty clay loams and cropping includes potatoes, sugar beet and cereals.
Lower cost of ownership
Of the current six-tractor fleet, four are Fendts and the farm also relies on a Fendt Rogator self-propelled sprayer. “Our wheeled tractor fleet was made up of just one competitor brand for many years,” explained Sam Markillie. “There were various reliability problems, some of which weren’t covered by the warranty, so we had a casual look at Fendt instead. Attractions included the reputation for reliability and strong resale values, and when we looked at adverts for used Fendts of similar age and specification to tractors we were running at that time, it was clear that the Fendts were worth a lot more. We also asked the opinion of friends and neighbours already running Fendts, and the positive response encouraged us to contact the TNS team to request a demonstration. We traded in our previous main wheeled tractor for a new 366hp Fendt 936 Vario, in 2015.”
Progressive change to Fendt
The 936 Vario performed well so, a year later, a 237hp Fendt 724 Vario joined the fleet followed by a 415hp Fendt 942 Vario in 2022. An additional Fendt 942 Vario is currently on order, to replace the last of a long succession of crawler tractors used on the farm since 1945. Sam explained that investment in the second 942 Vario and an additional 6m disc drill will improve timeliness when weather windows are limited. “We will have extra opportunities to prepare land with one of the tractors while the other does the drilling, or to use both tractors and drills simultaneously to maximise work rates,” he stressed. “The older 936 Vario is being retained as it remains reliable and won’t reduce in value, and it is ideal for operating our tine drill when conditions require it.”
The Fendt 942 Vario is the current flagship model in the latest generation 900 Vario-series, with a completely new cab and FendtONE controls, plus Fendt’s exclusive VarioDrive transmission concept which automatically adjusts the proportion of drive delivered to the front and rear wheels to optimise traction and working efficiency. VarioGrip central tyre inflation was also specified.
“Our silty soils are prone to compaction, and for many years we relied on crawlers for our main cultivations, especially for working land that had been ploughed. It’s becoming more difficult to move crawlers on the road and we plough less now too, so we prefer wheeled tractors for their extra versatility. Tyre technology has improved, and the Fendt VarioGrip system allows selection of optimum pressures for field work or road travel at the touch of the in-cab terminal. Previously, adjusting pressures meant spending extra time in the yard so they didn’t tend to get altered, but with VarioGrip there is no excuse for not selecting ideal pressures for every task. I really wouldn’t buy a tractor for field work without it now.”
Care is taken to ensure only the minimum ballast necessary is added for each task and a selection of Fendt front weight blocks from 600kg to 2.5t are used. Sam said that the 942 Vario is far superior in terms of ride comfort and performance to the similar sized 936 Vario. “It’s so different that comparison is difficult. Power is transferred more efficiently to the ground through the VarioDrive transmission and because the tyre pressures are always correctly adjusted. The balance is superb, and if the front end starts ‘nodding’ when heavy trailers are being pulled at high speeds then the operator simply adjusts the tyre pressures to increase stability and achieve a smoother ride.
Trusting the automation
“Usually, we just enter details regarding the task, the conditions and the implement into the FendtONE terminal in the cab and allow the system to select and adjust the tyre pressures automatically to suit. That works well, but we have an excellent team of keen operators and have arranged a course this winter to help them understand more about the factors involved in selecting ballast and tyre pressures so that they can get even more out of it.”
The 942 Vario is on Michelin VF 750/70R44 rear, and VF 650/65-38 front tyres, and Sam commented that although wider tyres could be fitted, there is no need. “The tyres achieve excellent traction, and when we check crop emergence after using the 942 Vario with our 6m drill, there are no visible wheel marks and there is negligible impact on the crops.
“As far as I am concerned; setting the tractor up correctly means we can get away without having the inconvenience of extra wide tyres.”
Asked about fuel consumption, Sam said that he believes that the Fendts are reasonably economical, but he also believes that attention to detail when setting the tractors and implements up for each task is much more important. “Larger fuel tanks would always be useful though,” he stressed.
Everything thought of
Fendt reliability has proved as good as Sam had hoped. “Our previous tractors often needed attention from the dealer to keep them working, but apart from a few AdBlue system issues that briefly affected the 724 Vario, our Fendt’s have been faultless.
“We have a great relationship with the TNS workshop and sales teams and always appreciate the engineers’ efforts to fit in with our work requirements when servicing is due.”
Sam said that every time he uses the Fendt tractors, he is amazed by the design and build quality. “There is nothing Fendt hasn’t thought about,” he stressed. “Why would anyone have anything different?”
Tractor Operator, Louis Jackson describes the Fendt 942 Vario as ‘the perfect tractor’. He said the double-acting rear linkage is an excellent feature – making it easier to hitch up to implements, and he likes the linkage memory function which allows the arms to be lifted slightly in wetter areas of the field, then they return to the pre-set working depth at the touch of a button.