Early September 2017, near Preetz in Schleswig-Holstein: I have arranged to meet Marc Itner, an employee of contractor Blunk in Rendswühren, out on the field. It's not that easy to find the right tractor here. The sun is making a rare appearance in an otherwise rainy summer in Schleswig-Holstein and the fields are flourishing. I drive past a few tractors form the contracting firm, Blunk, but they're not the ones I'm looking for. Schleswig-Holstein's landscape is characterised by its border hedges, which stop you being able to see very far. And a Fendt 1050 Vario is not a small tractor that's easy to overlook. After three calls I finally get to the right place and hear Marc Itner's tractor chugging behind the brow of a hill. So shoes off, boots on and off over the field.
"You have to get used to the low speed level," says Marc, as I climb into the cab. At 1,200 rpm, the engine rotates and the tractor pulls the 6.2-m wide Köckerling cultivator at just under 10 km/h and 25 cm deep through the clay ground. "Before we got the 1050, we had various tracked tractors and centre-pivot steering pulling the cultivator. And if we didn't have that, we would unbolt the two cultivator extensions on the right and left then plough to a width of 4.5 m with the 360-hp tractor," he adds.
Marc has lowered the air pressure on the front tyre to 1.5 and the rear tyres to 1.2 bar. Technically speaking, the tyres could take more. "1.2 bar is OK, but we don't go deeper because tests have found that the tyres slip on the rims under heavy traction. I have a bit more pressure on the front axle because we attached a 3.3-t weight in the front hitch and I don't want to overload the tyres". Two 1.25-t wheel weights are mounted on the right and left of the rear axle. "The tractor weighs at total of 20.7 tonnes and pulls very nicely with that. On the road, though, I am not allowed to drive at 60 km/h any more," Marc elaborates. Blunk tractors are fully approved for 60 km/h and agricultural clients make full use of this speed. "The 1050 runs very well on the road, better than the smaller Fendt series. Steering and suspension are well aligned. The tractor reaches its top speed at 1,300 rpm. It's a beautiful thing. However, due to its own weight of just over 14 tonnes, the 1050 is not exactly meant for transport applications".
Cultivators have a consumption rate of 70 to 80 litres diesel per hour. "That's about 15-16 litres of diesel per hectare," explains Marc, adding: "The size of the AdBlue tank is adapted to the diesel consumption. That means I top up with AdBlue with every diesel tank". Depending on the length of journey, Marc drives back to his office in the evening with the trailer or he leaves the 1050 Vario at the customer's premises. Blunk vehicles are sent out to Rendswühren for refuelling. The tractor holds 800 litres of diesel in its tank, plus 85 litres of AdBlue. "On a very long day I manage to drive the tank empty. I usually come out with 600 l to 650 l diesel when I plough. Then there are the trips on the road where consumption is not as high as under a full load pulling the cultivator," says Marc.
The tractor was delivered in April 2017. By the beginning of September, there were already 750 hours on the clock. "By the spring I already cultivated 700 hectares of corn field. Then the tractor drew our wood mulcher. We also use it on the silo for rolling. That clocks up plenty of hours, expected to be 1,500 hours a year," Marc anticipates.
At Blunk, every employee has his go-to machine. Marc pulled the short straw this season because the 1050 Vario is the only one at the Blunk site in Rendswühren: "Every regular driver has his tractor and attachment which he takes care of". Everyone must also make sure that the machines are maintained in time. "I give our workshop foreman enough advance warning when the service is due. As far as the maintenance of the machines is concerned, I am responsible as a driver".
Before a new tractor is ordered, the team at the Blunk contracting company is asked about their machine requirements. "As a rule, the tractors are ordered fully equipped. Then we can select the seat on top. I opted for a seat with the old back-rest system, because I find it more comfortable," he explains, adding: "Before we decide on a tractor, we test it extensively in operation. Only then do we decide for or against a machine".
The 1050-series cab is a bit more spacious compared to the 900-series Vario and at least feels quieter, which is probably also due to the engine's low-speed concept, he says: "The tractor may be slightly larger overall. Despite the massive bonnet, the field of vision is similar to the 900-series". The contracting firm employee is also happy with the number of storage compartments: "But the standard fridge compartment is slightly too small for us contractor drivers – we like to be on the go the whole day and only come back to the office in the evening. So, my colleagues and I put a large cooler on the right side of the cab".
He also likes the automatic control of the drive axles on the new tractor. "I no longer have to switch to the four-wheel. The tractor automatically controls the torque on both axles and shifts it variably. That makes it a very comfortable ride. And there's no changeover between the two groups, as with the smaller Vario series," he explains.
The driver stores the wear parts of the cultivator and the necessary tools in a box on the cultivator. "We have retrofitted many of the tractor's front weights with larger tool boxes. This gives us enough space for the most important materials and tools we need every day," adds Marc.
Today, after the cultivators, a catch crop is sown with a 6-m seed drill – drawn by a 936-series Fendt. The two trailers are well matched in their performance, says Marc: "I go slightly faster with the cultivator, so we're not under each other's feet in the fields".
He's usually on his own in his 500-hp tractor out in the Ostholstein fields and that's the way he likes it: "I like the way I can do so much of the work on my own. I set up the fields so I can work them as best as I can, without any hassle. And I get more done that way". He's always connected to his workmates on the radio and mobile phone, of course.
In 2011 the now 25-year-old started training as a specialist agricultural services provider with the contractor, Blunk. He was taken on after he finished school. "I come from a village just 10 km from Rendswühren, and as a teenager I often helped out on the farms in the town. I didn't enjoy working with the animals, though, so I decided to train as an agricultural services provider. And that was just right for me," says Marc confidently. Training places at Blunk are popular, so before applying for one of the courses he completed several internships in the company. "This was great in that I got to know the company and the employees and also got a picture of what they expected from someone working at the contracting company," Marc reflects. Summing up, he loves the variety of work, "Sometimes of course, my only job is to cultivate for three or four weeks a time. But then the conditions are always different and the work is ever-changing. After cultivating, I'll fit the tractor back for silo rolling. Then it's time for the beet harvest, and I use the Ropa Rübenmaus for that.
Source: LU-Spezial Dezember 2017, Beckmann Verlag, Großschlepper für Lohnunternehmer, Sonderausgabe für Fendt