BRANDON — Big four-wheel drive tractors are great for pulling planters, but they also tramples plants when used to side dress nitrogen, cultivate between rows or pull a sprayer.
Trampling has always been more of an issue with row crops than with broad-acre field crops because row crops generally have a higher value. It is also an issue for those trying to minimize their field footprints.
That’s why more dedicated row crop tractors are showing up on prairie farms.
However, today’s row crop farmers demand tractors that are comparable to their big four-wheel drive machines.
Darryl Priel, tractor marketing specialist for CaseIH, says the latest generation of row crop tractors are in the 250 to 450 horsepower range and have all the hydraulic capacity, GPS guidance, digital controls and amenities of the bigger tractors.
Priel said Case is poised to leapfrog to the front of the row crop class with its new Steiger Rowtrac. The three models have engine ratings of 350 h.p., 400 h.p and 450 h.p.
The standard hydraulic system is also similar to that found on a big frame tractor. It’s a 113 U.S. gallons per minute parallel flow system designed for use with a three-point hitch and power take-off.
Priel said it’s no coincidence that Case is introducing its new twin row corn planter at the same time that it is introducing the new Steiger Rowtrac.
“We’ve lost out a lot on the narrow track business over the past several years, so we’re getting back into the row crop business in a big way,” he said.
“So we had to develop a new narrow track tractor that is clearly superior to the other narrow track machines on the market.”
The new Rowtrac made its Manitoba debut at Ag Days in Brandon last month.
Priel said it makes sense to promote a row crop tractor on the Prairies.
“We have two primary row crop areas on the Prairies,” he said.
“Southern Manitoba grows corn and soybeans and southern Alberta grows sugar beets and corn. So that market is easy to understand. But then focus your attention on corn only. We now see corn growing right across Western Canada in areas where nobody ever expected to see it. And we’re seeing more soybeans in some of those areas.”
Priel said the expansion of corn and soybeans means a row crop tractor will eventually be part of the equipment lineup on most prairie farms.
The Rowtrac initially resembles a Quadtrac with narrow belts, but a closer inspection reveals that it’s an entirely new tractor, born on the drawing boards in Fargo, North Dakota.
“Some people think it’s merely a matter of installing narrow tracks on the existing Quad. Not so. This new tractor has been several years in development,” Priel said.
“Up until 2012, Quadtrac was only available with the big horsepower frame. That’s the 44 inch wide frame. Our new row crop tractor with tires is designed with a 36.5 inch wide frame. That’s a whole new tractor from the ground up and that chassis is the base for the Rowtrac.”
At 160 inches, the Rowtrac has a longer wheelbase than either the large frame Quadtrac or the smaller frame rubber tired row crop tractor upon which it’s based. The longer wheelbase actually makes the Rowtrac more manoeuvrable.
“A short wheelbase takes away your turning angle,” he said. “A longer wheelbase allows a tighter steering angle. You have a tighter radius. The Rowtrac has 38 degrees articulation.”
Priel said the Rowtrac’s longer wheelbase helps smooth out the rougher ride created by rubber track tractors.
All Quadtracs now have a full suspension system between the chassis and the cab, he added, but the Rowtrac suspension is significantly different than that on the big Quad.
The Rowtrac cab has an independent coil spring at each corner, with dampening from a high-pressure nitrogen charged shock absorber at each corner. As well, Panard rods and sway bars control sway of the cab.
The tractor also sports a suspension system that softens the ride and stabilizes the Rowtrac so that it stays precisely on course between the narrow rows.
Rubber doughnuts in the undercarriage suspension serve as shock absorbers to keep the system from shifting side to side.
A mount at each end of the roller beam controls pitch, roll and yaw as well as some of the vertical load. Two mounts in the centre of the roller beam control vertical load.
The tractor oscillates in the middle, but each of the four tracks is allowed to move independently. Each track oscillates up and down 10 degrees on an incline to maintain optimal contact with the soil.
“In addition, there’s more suspension in the drive system,” he said.
“The three rollers on each drive track have their own carriers. They connect to the tractor with their own suspension blocks.”
The combination of these systems reduces physical abuse on the operator and machine while helping the tractor work accurately between the rows
There are a number of track and width configurations. Belt widths are 16, 18 and 24 inches, which allows the Rowtrac to get into 20, 22, 30 and 40 inch row spacings.
Getting into different row widths requires different tractor stances, and the Rowtrac width can be 80, 88 or 120 inches.
“The drive axles are the same for all three widths,” he said.
“The drive axle goes from the differential into the up box. To get the right stance, we simply put a spacer between the final drive up box and the differential housing. This is a dry spacer. There’s no oil. Once the decision is made that a certain tractor will have a certain width, then that’s it. It stays that way.”
Priel said the Rowtrac shouldn’t be seen as just a row crop tractor. He said the typical prairie buyer will be a farmer who has made a commitment to row crops but will use the tractor for other purposes.
“It’s not exclusive to row crops. It’s perfect for grain carts and haying operations. And with all that horsepower, it can pull a moderate sized air drill quite easily,” he said. “Each track is comparable to a single 380 or 320 tire. It has 14 inches of contact.”
The engine is a 24-valve, six-cylinder, variable geometry turbo diesel. The transmission is a standard full Powershift 16 forward, two reverse unit. In keeping with the big horsepower engineering, the axles are 4.5 inches in diameter.
Lift capacity is 20,000 pounds, and fuel capacity is 250 U.S. gallons diesel and 46 gallons diesel exhaust fluid.
The first Rowtracs will be available in Western Canada this spring.