A 22-year old New Holland TX66 continues to provide cost-effective combining for one Gloucestershire farm, as Geoff Ashcroft found out during a recent visit.
For Peter Eayrs and son Richard, the move away from using a contractor to bring in the harvest, to one that has seen the farm invest in its own combine, has brought greater flexibility to their 121-hectare farm.
“We are far better placed to make the most of our existing grain storage and drying facilities, while now taking full advantage of the weather,” explains Peter, of North Farmcote farm, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.
With increasing pressure on timeliness, and the challenges of a contractor’s busy workload, getting harvest in at the optimum time had become a pipe-dream.
“We are 900 feet above sea level and that also means harvest is usually 10 days later than those around us,” he says.
“So, we just had to bite the bullet and invest in our own combine.
“By taking back control, we can now get our crops in when they are fit. This places less reliance on drying, which ultimately gives us a higher value commodity to sell with fewer penalties.”
That was three years ago, and the dream has been achieved with a 1998-model New Holland TX66, complete with 6.1-metre header – a machine considerably bigger than the New Holland 8060 with 4.6m header that the farm owned some 25 years ago.
The self-levelling machine shows around 2,500 hours on its clock, and is largely devoid of complex electronics.
Importantly, it was produced in an age when the phrase ‘exhaust after-treatment’ had not been created.
“For those of us who operate on smaller acreages, we are no longer faced with having to buy small kit,” says Peter.
“You can now buy a lot of capacity, for not too much outlay, which is extremely cost-effective.”
The six-walker TX66 packs a 260hp engine and had the choice of 6.1m or 7.6m header to fill its 8,000-litre grain tank.
“We chose one with a 6.1 metre header, to reduce the number of times the header is removed for combine movements,” says Peter.
“We can get around the farm quite easily, from field-to-field, and with an extra 100-acres of combining for a neighbour, the TX66 is an ideal size of combine that simply fits well into our environment.
“Used combine choices are plentiful. But the challenge was finding something that is not going to date too quickly.
“We still needed good parts availability, and a low-houred, well-maintained straightforward machine was important to us.”
Such a purchase has been made all the more viable thanks to the top end of the combine market moving increasingly towards larger machines with wider headers.
This has contributed to a supply of older combines with modest capacity, albeit much more mechanically simple.
And the attraction of kit that can be fixed on-farm is becoming increasingly recognised by those with a limited budget, as son Richard explains.
“We looked at many makes, and also considered the TX34/36 on cost alone, but if we ran it for 10 years, it would have little value elsewhere,” adds Richard, who works for Hay-on-Wye Claas dealer Rees Agri during the week, taking holidays and using weekends to support his father.
“We needed the best value for money, but also something that was not going to cost the earth to maintain. And with past experience of New Holland, and TH White at Toddington on the doorstep, the TX66 become an obvious choice.”
The combine so far has proved a superb asset to the business, according to Richard, but like many other modern classics, it does need regular upkeep if harvest reliability is to be maintained.
“We did not start looking for one until June, and all of a sudden, harvest was close,” he says.
“The TX sat for about 10 days, and then we were straight into harvest. I just had time to swap a couple of worn-out bearings.
“The first major change we made was to upgrade all the work lights to high-powered LED items.
“Other than that, it has been very much a process of replacing belts, bearings and knives, mostly during the winter months.
“I like the simplicity of belts and pulleys. You know it is not going to be headache. And you can over-ride most settings with a spanner, should any of the controls or switchgear give trouble mid-season.”
However, it has not all been plain sailing.
He recalls the rear beater needed attention, and mid-way through the 2019 season a bush failed in the fan housing, which had a knock-on effect with the shaker shoe.
“I should have spotted it, but luckily, it did not cost us too much in repairs or downtime,” he adds.
In readiness for the 2020 harvest, Richard and combine operator Tim Reason replaced the header’s knives and fingers, swapping the original riveted items with bolt-on parts.
“We have a lot of brash and stone, so the ability to carry out a quick fix if we break a knife is a bonus,” he adds.
“It is surprising what you find in the stone trap each day, and we do try to run stubble heights at around 10-12cm.”
He says that the TX’s capacity lets them start cutting later in the day when moisture levels are favourable, reducing the need to reach for the farm’s nine-tonne Opico batch dryer.
“The TX is plenty big enough for us,” he says.
“We can easily cut 20ha per day, and the combine gives us a good sample too. Being a straw-walker machine, we have the option of chopping or baling straw, which lets us make the most of additional resources.
“It is a lot of combine for the money, and for a machine that spends 11 months of the year stored under cover, and our biggest problem is keeping rodents away from the cab and the wiring.”
He says that the TX cab is a comfortable place to sit, considering the machine’s age.
“The view is great from behind that large curved screen, and there is plenty of room in the cab too,” he says.
“I have had to repair the air-suspension seat’s wiring to make it work properly, and the permanently- on air conditioning can now be isolated using a switch – handy when temperatures drop at night.”
Overall reliability has been beyond question, which Richard puts down to choosing the right machine in the best condition.
“I would have liked a four-wheel drive model, but when you buy secondhand there are compromises to be made,” he says.
“There is no diff lock either, and so far we have not needed to be in-field when conditions have required that extra level of grip.
“I guess that is another advantage of buying extra capacity.
“With harvesting capacity now sorted out, we can turn our attention to upgrading some of our grain storage facilities to improve rehandling and loading lorries.”