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Going forward, backwards

Published on 20 May 2016

A LARGE scale farming operation in Central West NSW has taken delivery of one of the first CLAAS XERION 4500 tractors equipped with a variable cabin in Australia. Boasting permanent 4x4 drive, all-wheel steering and continuously variable transmission, the 483 hp tractor is arguably one of the most technologically advanced tractors available.

However, it is the machine’s unique rotating cabin that has heads turning. With the cab mounted in its forward-facing position, XERION can be used as a conventional tractor for cultivation, sowing and spraying. In less than 30 seconds, the cab can be rotated 180 degrees and locked in its rear-facing position above the back axle, transforming the tractor into a self-propelled mower, swather, mulcher or silage roller.

Kebby & Watson, a fifth-generation family-owned company that operates a number of properties in the Tichborne, Gunningbland and Eugowra districts, took delivery of its first CLAAS tractor, a XERION 3800 (379 hp), in 2012. 

The business is managed by Jim and Janelle Watson, together with their son and daughter-in-law, Bruce and Karina Watson, and daughter and son-in-law, Katrina and Mark Swift. Mark, who manages the company’s machinery operations, began ‘eyeballing’ the XERION 3800 soon after its commercial release in Europe in 2007. “We immediately saw its potential for use in controlled traffic and continuous cropping systems,” he says. “At the time, we were looking at buying another front wheel assist tractor and a windrower. Alternatively, we could buy a XERION and have a custom made windrowing front for a similar amount".

“It’s never made sense to us to have so much capital tied up in a high horsepower tractor that you can only use for six weeks of the year, so we went for the XERION. Its versatility and manoeuvrability means you can use it for just about everything – sowing, spraying and windrowing.”

Mark contacted Parkes-based farm machinery dealership, McPherson Parts & Service, which has represented CLAAS in the central west for many years. McPherson Parts & Service Sales Representative, Dave Thompson, saw one of the very first XERION models in 1995 during a tour of the CLAAS factory in Harsewinkel, Germany. “I remember thinking, ‘How good is this?’,” Dave says. “I had no idea that I would end up selling one to a local farmer more than 20 years later.

“Mark was quite serious, so we travelled to Melbourne and had a look at one of the very first XERION tractors imported into Australia. It took 12 months to figure out exactly what we wanted and what we could actually get, but once we placed the order, it all happened pretty quickly. A big part of this was seeing whether Midwest would come to the party in building a 12 metre Quad-Deck front so that it produced a windrow on either side of the tractor, in the timeframe required.”

The 3800 was immediately put to use in Kebby & Watson’s continuous winter-summer cropping program, which sees about 3400 ha planted to wheat, barley, triticale, canola, lupins, faba beans, lentils, sorghum and mung beans each year. 

Impressed with its performance and reliability over three years of continuous use, Kebby & Watson elected to upgrade the 3800 to a new 4500 in March this year. “The manufacturing quality of these tractors is fantastic,” Mark says. “In three years, we replaced two alternators and fixed a leak in the air conditioner, which I don’t think you can complain about.”

Compared to the 3800, the new model has an extra 104 hp, is three tonnes heavier, has heavier axles and 710/70 R42 Michelin Machxbib tyres mounted on three metre wheel spacings. Mark also specified the tractor with eight high capacity remote hydraulic circuits – two front and six rear. The unit is believed to be the only machine of its type operating in broadacre conditions in Australia, however Mark isn’t interested in the claim. “This isn’t about having a tractor that’s different from everyone else – it’s about producing as efficiently as possible,” he says.

Its 12.5 litre six-cylinder Perkins engine produces full power on demand, even at low engine speeds, yet has remarkable fuel efficiency. Unlike most tractors, XERION features a full chassis frame, with the engine and transmission mounted as non-load bearing modules.

Likewise, the front and rear linkages are fully integrated into the chassis. During sowing, a 3000 litre tank is mounted to the front linkages to supply liquid fertilisers, inoculants or seed treatments to the seeder. “We are always thinking about new uses,” Mark says. “For example, we are thinking about implementing a two-pass fertiliser program at sowing.”

XERION features the same spacious, high visibility cabin and operating systems found on CLAAS LEXION combine harvesters and JAGUAR forage harvesters. To the right of the operator’s seat is a bank of seven terminals, including the CLAAS CEBIS operating system and CLAAS GPS PILOT guidance system, required to operate the various implements.

CEBIS monitors and controls all of the tractor’s key functions via a 210 mm colour terminal and multi-function lever integrated into the driver’s armrest. Up to 20 functions can be adjusted with just three fingers. CLAAS GPS PILOT guidance system, which uses RTK technology to achieve 2 cm accuracy, is the only unit suitable for end-of-row turning in tractors with all-wheel steering.

“It requires a bit of expertise to get everything to work the way it’s meant to but we have our own mechanic, which helps to ensure our ideas can be made to work,” Mark says. “One of the really nice things about the CLAAS operating system is that the machine sets itself to exactly the same settings as the last time we used that implement. Mark is currently spending up to 1300 hours a year in the cab, something he’s keen to address once the new machine is bedded down.

 

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