Taking on extra land can mean expensive outlays on bigger equipment. But increasing the power of existing machines can be a cost-effective alternative.
When it comes to farm machinery, Bedfordshire farmer Nigel Barnes prefers to invest in good quality second-hand equipment rather than buying new.
It’s a policy which Mr Barnes says means he retains full control over the machines he runs – including a bespoke engine remap to release some extra output from his 2015 Claas Lexion 770 combine harvester.
Clayhill Farm is an 800ha setup with owned land and contract farming agreements for different customers near its base in Westoning, on the outskirts of Bedford. It relies on a variety of front-line machines up to two decades old to help cover the arable area.
The Lexion 770 was purchased after Mr Barnes took on extra land last year – although the move to Claas came with the inevitable learning curve after running New Holland combines for 20 years.
During the first season, Mr Barnes felt the Claas was lacking torque when presented with some heavy crops and required some extra power to maintain a consistent forward speed.
“The biggest issue was in heavy crops; the combine’s engine would become bogged down and reach 100 percent load too quickly. This meant I’d need to pull the lever back to reduce forward speed to allow the feed mechanisms to catch up. The result was lumpy crop flow and compromised rotary performance due to the lack of power.”
As well as having Claas dealer Olivers on his doorstep, Mr Barnes researched the make and model, alongside talking to fellow Lexion owners, before committing to the purchase.
The 40ft 770 replaced a 30ft New Holland CR9080 to allow him to keep his contract customers happy during the busy period, he says. “We buy equipment that is right for the farm and Olivers had the machine when we were looking to change.
“We’ve never been afraid to own machinery outside of a warranty period and maintain it ourselves. For what I paid for the 770, I would be looking at the range below if I spent the same money on a new combine, which means we wouldn’t be able to handle the acreage.”
However, to increase the power and avoid a costly decision to trade his recent acquisition for a bigger machine after only one season, Mr Barnes contacted Avon Tuning about its professional engine remapping service as a cost-effective alternative for increasing work efficiencies.
“I went to see Avon Tuning at Lamma, who said that uprating combine engine capacity was becoming popular and increasing power to the next model up in the range was possible if the running gear and cooling system were compatible.
“The Lexion 770 is almost identical to its bigger sibling, the 780. There are a few changes such as a bigger grain tank and different concaves, but the engine, transmission and cooling packages are identical. Avon Tuning advised me that matching the power of the 780 model on my machine would be safe and they had experience of doing it already.”
Increasing power and torque of an engine is fundamental for boosting performance. The install is carried out on farm but making sure the machine can handle the increase before the works is more important, as Gareth Jones, from Avon Tuning explains.
“We run checks on the machine we are installing a remap onto to know if it is running the drivetrain and ancillaries to match the increase in power. We will always advise the customer if we think their machine isn’t able to handle a boost in performance.”
An install is carried out in around two hours and involves downloading the original maps from the machine’s ECU, which are saved if the customer requires them to be uploaded back onto the machine later.
“The new map, in this instance from a Lexion 780, is then downloaded
from the secure website portal and uploaded via our hardware onto the machine. We can tweak maps depending on what the individual customer requires, with the majority tailored to specific needs.
“For tractor upgrades we dyno test the output to ensure the changes we have made are having the required effect, while for combines we monitor the engine characterises over several hours to check the new software has changed the output as intended and within the engine’s verified tolerances,” adds Mr Jones.
Remapping engines to reliably achieve greater output fits with Mr Barnes’ ethos of buying good second-hand equipment that can be repaired in-house and doesn’t require a dealer every time there is an issue.
“Although relying on one manufacturer and buying new machines every few years has its benefits, I believe you end up paying about the same in warranty as you do in depreciation to own older machines in the long run.”
The difference is more options when it comes to breakdowns, whereas with newer machines you are tied to the main dealer, adds Mr Barnes.
“For our tillage work, we run a 2001 Claas Challenger 95E, a 2008 Case Quadtrac 485 and a 2014 Fendt 936, which all offer reliable horsepower purchased for a fraction of the price of an equivalent new machine.
“We’ve reconditioned the Quadtrac’s gearbox and fitted two new tracks during our ownership, which would be like a regular finance payment on a new machine over the same period.
“It is a similar story when we want to increase engine power by remapping. There is no need for us to contact the dealer or do the remapping work behind their backs as we own the machines and won’t be invalidating any warranties. We maintain good relationships with dealers for backup, but the extra output from remapping will increase our work efficiencies.”