Athlone-based contractor Adrian Elliot's main services are reseeding, slurry spreading and drainage work. Last week the Westmeath man became one of the first in the midlands to take delivery of a new 135hp Kubota M135GX tractor.
This orange-liveried machine is the flagship offering from the Japanese tractor maker, and in it Kubota has invested a desire to recalibrate the brand's image as being not just a sub-100hp tractor specialist, but a serious contender in the high power stakes.
Most farmers and contractors will by now have come across these distinctive tractors at one show or another. Invariably punters tend to be impressed, with the only caveat typically being that there are too few "bells and whistles".
But is this fair? A key part of Kubota's identity has always been to keep things nice and simple.
It is an ethos that has won many farmers and contractors over in recent years, and one that is clearly reflected in their tractor designs. In my experience, the fans of the extras are diehard fans of the big three brands: Deere; New Holland; and Massey Ferguson.
Put simply, these punters' hearts are already won over. Pigs will be inclined to fly before these brand followers even contemplate switching allegiance.
And then you have the more open-minded individual. The type of operators who, like Mr Elliot, are willing to take a punt on a tractor they feel can offer the same power as one of the big three but at a more affordable price.
The flagship M135 certainly fits into that category; with a list price of circa €65,000 plus VAT, none of the big three can claim to offer equivalent value in terms of horsepower per euro. The catch, of course, is that Kubota is still only a growing brand in this country and there is some inherent risk in buying a lesser known marque. Is there sufficient dealer back up in place?
Is there adequate service know-how for a newish brand? How does the resale value hold up in comparison to the more established brands? These were the sort of questions Mr Elliot toyed with before deciding to seal the deal.
"I organised a demo last year to get a feel for what the tractor could do. I'd seen it at the Ploughing Championships and was impressed with the build and cab quality, but to get a proper idea you need to have the tractor out on test for a few days.
"I was given a trip to Agritechnica for my birthday last November – a fantastic show. While 'refuelling' during one of the nights out I got chatting to one of the salesmen from North Clare Tractors, who are Kubota agents.
"The salesman told me they had a 2012-plated demo model of the M135 in stock with low hours on the clock. I more or less signed for the tractor there and then – so I went to Germany and ended up buying a tractor in north Clare."
Mr Elliot traded in his old Fiat F100 against the Kubota. His early impressions of the new arrival have been good. When I called he was busy spreading slurry with his 3,000 gallon Cross trailing shoe tanker.
"I'm very impressed with the size and layout of the cab," he said. "It's a really quiet tractor inside even when working at full revs. I plan to buy a Sigma 4 loader for the tractor shortly so the good visibility will be crucial for that, especially the roof window.
"This tractor is also fitted with front suspension so it's very smooth on the road."
Engine and transmission
The tractor is rated to deliver 118hp at the PTO. The four cylinder 6.1 litre engine is turbocharged and uses common rail direct injection in conjunction with exhaust gas recirculation and a diesel particulate filter to meet emission requirements.
According to Kubota, this set-up delivers optimum efficiency, better fuel economy and less noise. PTO horsepower is reached at 1,900rpm, while peak torque is reached at only 1,200rpm.
Power is sent to a 24F/24R transmission with hydraulic shuttle. The eight-speed, three-range transmission is controlled by a single lever with H-M-L markings for range selection, along with thumb +/- buttons for gear changes.
There are also +/- buttons on the right side armrest for easy access on the road along with linkage and engine speed controls.
The hydraulic shuttle shift stick is positioned just below the left rim of the steering wheel so the operator can easily maintain steering control while reversing direction.
Another recent machinery addition to Mr Elliot's fleet is a Guttler Greenmaster, used for all reseeding work. After local farmers were impressed with the results of the first machine, Mr Elliot decided to upgrade last year to a new model.
The Guttler consists of a prism ring roller on the rear that pushes the seed down a few millimetres into the soil for a good take. Unlike a flat roller, Mr Elliot says you don't get the capping risk with a ring roller.
A flexible harrow at the front rips out mosses, dead grasses and weeds.
The Guttler can handle very small seeds such as rape, kale, clover and slug pellets. The hopper takes around 125kg of seed, allowing you to sow up to 9ac at a time.
The seedlings are blown down onto metal plates which give them a spread effect down onto the soil. Mr Elliot normally sows grass seed at a rate of 14kg/ac. He charges €55/ac for direct seeding with the Guttler and Cross front leveller, with seed cost being extra.
For over-sowing clover, Mr Elliot switches to a rate of 2kg/ac. In his view, the best time to over-sow clover is just after first cut silage in June, when the grass is cut down low and the soil has warmed up a bit.
He advises a watery application of slurry after over-sowing to encourage take.
One problem with the Guttler was that for jobs like reseeding directly into ground which had been sprayed off, Mr Elliot felt another heavier row or two of tines were needed on the machine in order to give the soil surface a better scratching.
After making various enquiries he contacted Cross Agricultural Engineering and explained what he was looking for.
Simon Cross came back to him with a custom built front mounted harrow designed to run ahead of the Guttler.
It gives the ground an extra run of tines and ensures good soil to seed contact, even in dry conditions.
Outside of reseeding Adrian's other main service for farmers is slurry spreading.
In 2008 he spent €45,000 on a new Cross 3,000 gallon single axle tanker with a 7.6m Bomech trailing shoe applicator.
He was able to grant aid it to the tune of €12,000 at the time, and says it is a well- built tanker with a very good level of specification.
"The small details are what makes this tanker," Mr Elliot explained.
"One example is the way I can fit a splash plate applicator onto the rear of this tanker even when it is carrying the trailing shoe system.
"That allows me to change my spreading system in a minute if the customer so desires.
"When not in use the splash plate is stored on the side of the tanker. It sounds simple but none of the other manufacturers offer such a system."
Is your contractor the best of the bunch?
An exciting new farm awards scheme launched by the Farming Independent is aiming to identify and reward the country's best agricultural contractor.
Offering a total prize fund of €25,000, the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards 2014 is being run by Zurich Insurance and the Farming Independent in association with the ICMSA, Landrover and Teagasc.
The competition features eight separate categories, with €2,500 on offer for each category winner and an additional prize to the value of €5,000 for the overall 'Grand Prix' winner.
The eight categories include agricultural contractor of the year, dairy, beef, tillage, sheep, equestrian, alternative or other enterprises.
The eighth category is targeted at the rising stars of farming and aims to reward innovation within the sector.
HOW IT WORKS
Here at the Farming Independent, we hope this competition will highlight the important work being done by agricultural contractors all over the country.
In times of hardship we hear many stories of contractors who go above and beyond the normal call of duty in order to make life that bit easier for farmers.
Indeed just last month in the unsuitable slurry spreading weather we heard reports of contractors moving slurry from one slatted unit to another in order to ensure cattle were not left standing in slurry.
If you think your contractor deserves this prize, it couldn't be easier to nominate them.
Farmers who class their contractor – no matter how big or small, or for whatever reason– as being among the best in the country should fill in the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards 2014 form seen in recent editions of the Farming Independent, including this edition.
The deadline for applications is fast approaching, on 25 February, so get moving today to ensure your contractor gets the recognition he (or she) deserve.
The application form will appear in each Farming Independent edition until 25 February.
The winning contractor will receive the €2,500 cash prize for the agricultural contractor of the year category.
However, anyone who is nominated stands to gain, with all contractors who make the final being profiled in the Farming Independent to highlight the services they offer to farmers.