What is Wrong With the Farming Tractor?

History and introduction

In 1811 was the steamlocomobile taken in use in England as predecessor of the tractor. It was expensive and heavy back then, and therefore also had hard times competing against cheap human manpower and draft animals. Therefore it took about 100 years, to 1889, before we got the mechanization of the farming. That happened when a combustion engine was mounted on a Rumsley steamlocomobile undercarriage. And that is the way tractors still is made. The name tractor was however first used in America in 1906 by the company Hart-Parr.
After nearly 200 years with almost equal concept, maybe it is time to study this solution a little closer. Think of all the new technological developments and knowledge that have appeared after that. Maybe the tractor isnít that optimum any longer? How should a new draft machine be made to fulfill our requirements for tomorrows farming? Base it on todayís technological opportunities without looking at the old tractor and copy that. We want to make a new trekker by starting a run-through of the possibilities and suggestions to solutions here and now.

Picture 1. John Fowlerís steamplow had a great meaning for the mechanization of the farming. Two locomobiles pulls a plow back and forth. You can clearly see the likeness between the steamlocomobile and the tractor today.

What is wrong with the tractor?

After a close study of the method of operation and the complete technical solution, that ďeverybodyĒ uses, we can sum up whatís wrong shortly like this: Very much. Let us start with some of the biggest weaknesses and limitations with the old tractor. (Some is better and some is worse).

a. Lack of suspension

The fact that tractors lack suspension on all wheels is the biggest problem with the tractor solution, because it makes many other problems as well. That is an obvious inheritance from the steamlocomobile when they were happy with work speeds on 2-6 km/h. Therefore it wasnít a problem with the concept without suspension. But we donít have to drive that fast, will someone say. Yes, we have to do that, otherwise we need even bigger equipment. Double speed gives half the size of the equipment. That means that you can halve your investments, and use your machines better.
As the weight on the equipments have reached new heights, the load on the tractor have become bigger and bigger, and has ended up like dinosaurs compared with what they can actually do. To illustrate what this signifies constructive we make the following consideration. Let us take for instance that the suspension in the tires over a given bump with the tractor today is 2 cm. If we increase the suspension length to 10 cm on a trekker with suspension the strain will be reduced to 1/5 of what we have today with the same equipment. If we then halve the size of the equipment by doubling the speed, the strain will be reduced to 1/10 in both the equipment and the trekker. We can then halve the weight. Since the prices for such equipment are almost proportional to the weight, we can then reduce the machine investments each unit of farming area with 50-70 % compared with today. Money that you then will save.
When you start using GPS-steering of the tractor the difference gets even clearer. Then you have to drive slowly all the time with todayís tractors, because if one of the wheels reaches a bump, you would get an enormous throw in the tractor that in worst case maybe tilts it over or destroys it. All of us that have driven tractors a lot know that we have to slow down over bumps, but can regain speed after the bump. An automatic steering system can not judge empty holes, bumps or tops. Therefore the speed must be so low, that the tractor and equipment donít get damaged, even in the worst bumps. With suspension this problem will be eliminated and we can benefit from higher speed and even better use of our equipment. I could have kept on talking about the problems with lack of suspension, but I will save it to later.

b. Bad gearboxes

In the future we, for several reasons, have to take in use a better, fully continuous gearbox. Higher work speeds demands that you can increase the speed from 0 to maximum more flexible. Then we can optimize the engines based only on engine power. The engines will then become much more optimal, since we can ignore the fuss around torque. With fully continuous gearboxes the torque has no importance.
We get reduced diesel consumption and engine wear, since the engine only rotate with the speed that is necessary to get the necessary power. It is sad to hear all those tractors that during transport have to run the engine on highest possible rpm only to get high speed, when this speed could be obtained by higher gear ratio and lower rpm. How often do you drive your car with maximum gas with unloaded engine? The engine will obviously suffer. In modern times with too much CO2-pollution, this has to change.
Since I have invented such a fully continuous gearbox (described on Internet flagear.fladby.com) I contacted almost all the large tractor manufacturers and called the importance of such a gearbox. Everybody replied the same. Nothing. Why? Probably since they find it much easier just to keep on producing the old tractors as they are today. They can keep on doing that as long as you as a customer donít demand a better solution.

c. Heavy and expensive tractors

Today a 135 kW (185hp) tractor weigh between 8 and 9 metric tons. If you took a completely new and modern solution with suspension and a fully continuous gearbox in use, a trekker with the same engine power would weigh only between 3 and 4 metric tons. That means a weight reduction between 50 and 60 %. With that you can do your job more efficient because you donít have to pull so much unnecessary steel. If the pattern where price is about proportional to the weight is valid, it will also indicate a reduction in costs on tens of thousands of Euros that you can be spent on other things. And who doesnít want a trekker with 185 hp instead of a tractor with 100 hp when the price is the same?

d. Ground damages

To get good drag ability with lower weight and reduce the ground pressure it is important to increase the width of the tires. It has been accepted for a long time that high ground pressure is bad for the soil and the grass roots. A light trekker will therefore give bigger crop. You will therefore get higher income since the crop gets bigger. The tractor tires have in many years been made narrow so they should fit in the plow furrow.

e. Better ground grip and steering.

On bigger wheel loaders and big American tractors mid-steering have been almost universal in many years because this concept has many advantages. Combined with suspension on all wheels instead of tilting front axle it gives improved stability and drag ability.

f. Better hydraulic

The three points hydraulic with depth control that was invented by Ferguson needs modernizing. Modern technology gives opportunities for complete drag control instead of top bar control or drag bar control. Besides, the complicated three points lift should be replaced by a simpler solution. Reconstructing the rear of the tractor and slim it to a simpler and more fitting solution should be great for the farmersí wallets. Hydraulic three points lift should be standard both in front and behind on all farming tractors.

g. Better working environment

Even modern tractors have a bad working environment with a lot of noise and lack of dust-, herbicide-, or pollen-filter. It is close to a scandal that the operatorís area doesnít have any kind of protection from dust and poisonous substances. The tractor engine has air filter and is generally lasting about 20 years, while a human being who is supposed to live at least 80 years sits unprotected. The result is that too many farmers get dust lungs and destroyed health long before. And what about the ones that are allergic to grass or dust. They shouldnít be excluded from farming because the tractor producers donít care about working environment at all. It is not better when it comes to noise. You have no noise reduction even on modern tractors, and the engine is barely separated from the cab. The only thing of convenience they offer that they can brag about is a poor muffler. This is the situation 30 years after the producers of mobile compressors were instructed to employ noise reducers. Therefore many elderly farmers are socially handicapped because of faulty hearing and thus are unable to join a normal conversation. That is not acceptable, and a solution with a higher degree of separation between engine and driver is necessary. Enormous vibrations because of the lack of suspension are another bad thing about the tractor that we have to deal with. Many people have gotten bad health because of it.
A fully continuous gearbox is completely necessary to remove the problems with bad clutch foot, shoulder and arm. It is almost a scandal that we still have to lift our foot and move a gear lever every time we want to alter speed or change direction, because that is heavily repeated work throughout a working day.
The lack of proper arrangements for entering the operatorís area is one of many details that the producers should be embarrassed about. It is neither expensive nor difficult. Considering all the times you have to climb in and out of a tractor every day, you can get hurt easy. And it should not be a requirement to be an acrobatic to be a farmer.
Much light is something we only have on sunny summer days. Maybe it would have been a good idea to equip the tractors with decent lights in all directions from the factory.

h. Brakes

ABS- brakes are standard everywhere, but in the tractor world this is not even a topic. Bad brakes with no concern of force distribution between the wheels are more standard than deviation. When did we get decent brakes on the front wheels by the way?
Even though we have all those different slippery grounds in the farming. Steep terrain, small roads, and heavy trailers and other equipment and the brakes on tractors are still that primitive. Shock absorbers, as in all other vehicles which are so important for brake- and steering operation are not possible because the lack of suspension. After all, the tractor also drives with fairly high speed along large roads with heavy traffic.

Less costs and investments give higher income

How much you can earn extra if you could change to the new trekker is up to you to find out. But when you sum up everything, it will be a lot and there is no reason to believe these demands for high productivity will be smaller in the future.

Reflections

I saw once an overview on how much quicker you can turn steel details today compared to what you could do 100 years ago. You can turn the same piece 100 times quicker with 100 times better precision with less manpower. Many people claims that the farming is in front when it comes to mechanization. That is probably correct if you count in invested money, but not if you count in how much that is brought back from these investments. And that is not because of the farmers, but the machine producers. I think it shows disrespect to the ones they deliver machines and equipment to, or else they would have analyzed their products more seriously instead of continuing to use the solutions from two centuries ago. And when you contact them to give your points of view on how to make the machines better, they donít even bother to reply. They probably donít feel the knife on their throat in the same way as farmers probably do in these WTO times. Therefore it would probably be smart of you to think through if this is the way you want it, or maybe it is time to give less of your money away to the tractor manufacturers. Maybe you need money more than the ones that doesnít care anyway. You are through advertisements, brochures and commercials always told how great the tractors are, so the producers probably donít expect people to question them about the tractors perfectness. The manufacturers probably guess that the tractor is like a holly cow that no one dear to put a question mark on and they thereby feel safe, and thinks that an enlargement in size and some fresh colors makes the customers happy. This is maybe, a development caused by the fact that the producers are owned by investors, and those companies are not guided after what gives the customer the best product, but what gives them most money with least amount of work.
It has become more and more tempting to start the production of a new trekker independent of the current ones, because we could then start the production from scratch. This can only happen when the interest, among you farmers, is big enough so that there is a point in evaluating this alternative. Because, if all you farmers, unlike us, still think the tractor is the way it should be, then it remains as the only alternative. If you might be interested or have a point of view, you should contact us on email: flagro@fladby.com so we can map the interest. The more that are interested, the sooner we can start the production. Flagroís webpage is: http://flagro.fladby.com

© Tron-Halvard Fladby/ 20.7.2006