When AGCO’s Fendt brand introduced its newest tractor line, the 1000 Series, to North America at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, in February, it gave us another entirely new and very different choice in high-horsepower tractors.
Until recently in our market front-wheel assist tractors topped out at about 380 horsepower. But that is where the rigid-frame 1000 Series begins. Its four models run from there up to 500 horsepower, a range that has until now been the sole domain of articulated four-wheel drives.
To deliver that much horsepower in a pretty compact package, the Fendts come jam packed with new technology. Its new VarioDrive drivetrain is nothing like you’d expect to find on an articulated tractor. The tractor uses Fendt’s Vario CVT transmission, but relies on a mechanical-hydraulic system to deliver power to the axles.
Each axle is driven by its own hydraulic motor, allowing the system to deliver different amounts of torque to front and rear axles simultaneously. The company claims this system acts much like an axle differential, splitting power one way or the other. The system can detect wheel slip and redirect torque to the other axle with the assistance of an intelligent four-wheel clutch system. During turns, the front axle pulls the tractor around the corner, improving the turn radius by as much as 10 percent.
Up front the tractor relies on a 12.5 litre MAN diesel, making Fendt one of the few brands in AGCO’s stable that doesn’t rely on AGCO Power engines. But this engine meshes nicely with Fendt’s low r.p.m.-high torque philosophy. On the 1050 model, the engine puts out 1,770 foot/pounds of torque at just 1,100 r.p.m.
That helps keep fuel consumption down. And bragging about fuel consumption rates for Fendt tractors is something AGCO has been doing a lot of during recent years. At the grand opening of its Marktoberdorf Germany assembly plant a couple of years ago, the company went so far as to get a load car from the DLG tractor test centre to put on a demonstration for journalists on the test track outside the R&D facility to prove its fuel consumption claims.
The 1000 Series tractors have a pretty light footprint with their base weight of just 30,000 pounds. But they can be ballasted with up to 50 percent more weight to improve drawbar performance.
All of these features make the 1000 Series a very different animal than what prairie farmers have opted for when buying a high-horsepower tractor—although with only the articulated design available, they havent had much choice in that. So will the new Fendts create any kind of paradigm shift in buyer choice on the prairie?
That’s a hard question to answer.
In Western Europe where tillage is still king, a lot of field equipment, even tillage implements, are PTO powered. Mixed PTO and drawbar performance is so important to European farmers the DLG tractor test facility in Germany created a new “Power mix” test to measure tractor output when working under those conditions. So the 1000 Series which offers big power, a rigid frame and a PTO wrapped in a compact package is bound to make a big splash in that market.
But on the prairie a high-horsepower tractor is likely only going to need its PTO for grain cart duty. Despite that, AGCO executives said the 1000 Series was designed with the North American market in mind.
Over here articulated tractors have offered what engineers traditionally consider the most important features to maximize drawbar performance: 100 pounds-per-horsepower weight and long-wheelbase bodies. The 1000 Series doesn’t really hit the mark on either, but are those attributes still the best for the job in the face of all the new technology the pale green tractors bring to the table?
Even though Fendt is part of the AGCO empire, only a few Canadian AGCO dealers are allowed to retail these tractors, so there isn’t always a dealer handy for most prairie farmers, something brand executives acknowledge is important in farmers’ buying decisions. But AGCO is going to introduce the 1000 Series wearing yellow paint and Challenger badges later this year. That provides nearly every AGCO dealer the ability to park one on the lot, so that takes care of that problem.
The question remains, however, will prairie farmers consider this tractor configuration a viable alternative to the dominant four-wheel drive design, or will it be limited to niche market status? Only time and field trials will tell.