It took three demonstrations, but a Valtra T234 Direct with SmartTouch control is finally rattling the old guard at one Gloucestershire farming estate.
Geoff Ashcroft reports...
Until recently, Valtra has rarely been viewed as a serious contender to replace established ‘premium’ brands.
However, the introduction of its latest SmartTouch control concept (as tested by FG, October 5, 2018) on its N, T and S Series tractors may start to turn a few heads.
One such convert is Andrew Walters, farm and estate manager at Boddington Estates, near Gloucester, who turned his back on mainstream brands in favour of a Valtra T234 Direct.
He says: “We were in the market to replace an older JD6920, as part of our on-going fleet update plans. As our cultivation and drilling choices have evolved, the need for a bit more power also had to be considered.”
“So we found ourselves looking at 230-240hp tractors that could offer greater versatility and also support our frontline horsepower.”
A succession of demonstrations then followed.
“I have good past experience of Fendt, through local dealer Lister Wilder and a 724 was the obvious choice, but it was not the only option,” says Mr Walters.
“We tried most of the key colours during the selection process. I was offered the opportunity by Lister’s Valtra specialist to try a T4 and I must admit, I laughed it off.
“And the second time I was asked, although having doubts, we ended up with a Direct model onfarm for a week.
“Its performance was impressive. Reports from colleagues was that it pulled really well, was comfortable and quiet.
“Then a Versu powershift version turned up some time afterwards, and it confirmed that a CVT was the only transmission choice for us.
“But I had a few reservations over the Valtra’s residual value and backup. Dealer backup is so important with equipment you know you cannot fix yourself.”
By this time, he says Lister Wilder was back with a few options to consider, including a nearly-new 724, but the Valtra T234 quote was suitably competitive.
“This did not make the process any easier, and then a Valtra reappeared for the third time and I took the opportunity to spend time in the cab myself,” says Mr Walters.
“I looked into its features and controls and how it could handle our kit. While the CVT is different to what we have been used to, it was not a poor relation to the Fendt Vario.”
“Importantly, I can keep an eye on how the tractor is performing while I am sat on the combine,”
“We can be travelling as far as 20 miles from one end of the farm to the other and on-road comfort is a big plus.”
Of particular importance is the SmartTouch control interface and the tractor joystick.
“The armrest and joystick are great and the SmartTouch system is as easy to use as an iPad,” he says.
“The split screen function does make images a bit too small, though.
“We are currently using Valtra’s Novotel guidance, but will probably swap to Topcon just to maintain compatibility with existing systems for A-B lines and field boundaries,” says Mr Walters.
“Learning two systems just adds complexity and an X25 screen can then be dedicated to guidance, leaving the tractor screen for tractor functions.”
With 500 hours under its belt, has the T234 blotted its copybook?
“Not yet,” says Mr Walters. “There are little things that frustrate, and also little things that make you think why can others not do this?”
He cites the CVT as being a little woolly and at times, unresponsive compared to the Fendt Vario, and a hopeless mirror on the rear window is there to help see the pickup hitch.
“Why would I want to open a window and let dust in, to hitch up a trailer?” he asks. “Let us have a
camera to improve visibility.
“Also, the fuel tank is not large enough, and its design makes it a struggle to properly fill the tank when using a pump, which is poor when you want a long day in the field.
“The clevis hitch is awkwardly tucked inside the rear wheel, though the pto stub shaft is cleverly stowed in the off-side storage compartment’s door and that is neat.”
But based on current experiences, the Valtra is shaping up to be a shrewd purchase, despite an initial reluctance to put one through its paces.
“I have a good team at Boddington, and it is important for my operators to be involved in discussions and demonstrations with tractors and equipment. After all, they are the ones spending most of the time on them,” he says.
“Ultimately, the final decision has to rest with me, and it is my neck on the block if I get it wrong.
“This experience has been about bums on seats and not judging a book by its cover. Since the tractor arrived, it has drawn a lot of interest locally.”
Mr Walters is not a fan of running a mixed tractor fleet, but adds that having three different brands of tractor does highlight who steps up to the plate.
“This experience has highlighted to me that our next tractor purchase is likely to come from the Agco stable,” he says.
Model: Valtra T234 Direct
Engine: 7.4-litre, sixcylinder Agco Power
Power: 220hp rising to 250hp with boost
Transmission: Four range CVT 0-50kph
Rear lift: 9,500kg