The number of new selfpropelled (SP) forage harvesters sold in Canada and the U. S. each year hovers around the 475 mark, which means only a few farmers and custom operators are in the market for one.
The brand now claiming to dominate the SP forage harvester market in North America, Claas, isn’t exactly a household name on the Prairies. Based in Germany, Claas has been selling equipment in Canada for decades, but it has remained a relatively minor player, here. As demands rise for more horsepower, however, so to does interest in these specialty pieces of equipment. For the Gilbraith family at St. Claude, Man., Claas’s 650-horsepower Jaguar harvester is a welcome hand to running their custom ensilaging operation.
The new 650-horsepower Jaguar 960 is one of a line of six 900 Series Jaguar models Claas introduced in March of 2008. It’s built on an entirely new platform, which includes operator comfort improvements such as a larger cab and updates to the chopping and drive-line systems.
After owning a couple of selfpropelled harvesters, the Gilbraiths wouldn’t own anything other than a Claas, they say. Peter Gilbraith says as custom operators they need a machine that is reliable and efficient, and the previous Claas machine they owned performed so well they didn’t even consider another brand.
To buy their first Jaguar a few years ago, the Gilbraiths had to turn to a dealer two provinces away in Alberta, but that was before Brandon-based Hepson Equipment Inc. took on their Claas franchise. “It’s a niche market,” says Sid Patterson, owner and manager of Hepson Equipment Inc. “It’s our combine (equivalent).”
PARTS AND SERVICE
Now, having a local dealer has greatly improved the Gilbraith’s access to parts and service, which is critical in keeping their machine running continuously during the season. But even with a dealer nearby, the Gilbraiths themselves still stock about $27,000 in parts.
Having an on-farm parts supply has been a benefit when it comes to minimizing down time, notes Robert Gilbraith. He says the Jaguar will be brought into their own shop several times during the season, particularly when weather stops operations, and checked over to evaluate the condition of wear parts. Forage harvesters demand much more maintenance than most other agricultural machines. “It’s a high wear item,” says Patterson.
Robert notes the family has found it is also important to establish a good working relationship with a dealer. “You can’t buy cheap parts and expect first-class service (from a dealer),” he says. Patterson notes working closely with a dealership that specializes in handling forage harvesters means having access to experienced service technicians. “I’d say we diagnose 90 per cent of problems over the phone,” he says.
That level of service wouldn’t be possible from the average major-brand dealership, according to Fred Dalheimer, service manager for Claas in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. “Some dealers don’t even want to handle them (forage harvesters),” he says. That’s because stocking parts and training service technicians isn’t practical when selling only one or two machines every few years.
Although Claas’s dealer network is limited in Western Canada — at least when compared to the majors — they have a strong focus on the Jaguars, which helps explain why the brand lays claim to owning the dominant share of the SP forage harvester market.
EFFICIENCY AND DESIGN FEATURES
But it is primarily the Jaguar’s design and efficiency that has impressed the Gilbraiths. “Of all the harvesters out there, this is by far the simplest,” Patterson says as he leans against the 960 on the Gilbraith farm. Standing nearby, Robert nods enthusiastically in agreement.
“The number of crops is challenging engineers to come up with designs that work well in all crops and in all conditions,” says Dalheimer. That means getting adjustments set correctly to local conditions is critical for optimizing performance. To help the Gilbraiths and their crew better understand the 960’s design and coach them in setting the machine, the company arranged for a training day right on the farm. Matt Jaymes, Claas’s senior product specialist for hay and forage equipment, led the session.
After completing the class, Jaymes walks around the Jaguar to point out some of what he feels are its design advantages. The first thing apparent is the easy access to the engine compartment. Three panels lift up to allow almost unrestricted access to most of the drive components. And by removing a couple of linchpins, the rear inner wheel fenders can be removed, further improving access.
Claas’s Jaguars use the longest drive belt compared to their competition but reliability apparently isn’t a problem. Some machines have logged over 14,000 hours without needing a replacement, according to Jaymes.
The 90-degree gearbox designs used on competing machines allow for shorter belts but Jaymes says those gearboxes create a parasitic power loss of up to five per cent. The Jaguars’ transverse-mounted engine means drive power can be taken directly from the crankshaft. “There’s horsepower and then there’s efficient horsepower,” he says.
He claims the Claas harvesters can operate with up to 100 horsepower less than competing brands and still deliver comparable capacity. That’s partly because 90-degree gearboxes have been eliminated from the main drive arrangement. But allowing plant material to follow a direct path through the chopping and blowing mechanism is another key feature. Some brands redirect material flow, further increasing power demands.
Jaymes adds power is a critical component in harvesters. “If you can’t lug it down to 1,800 r. p. m., you bought too big a machine,” he comments. “All the components are designed to run at the correct speed when the engine is lugged down.”
With a new harvester that offers significantly increased capacity over their previous model, will that translate into higher profits for the Gilbraith family’s custom operations? “I hope so,” says Robert. The family will increase its per-hour rate, but the actual cost to farm customers should remain the same for each acre harvested, because of the increased capacity of the new 960. The benefit is the family will be able to service more customers in a season.
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