The envelope, please.

Many of this year's Farm Industry News Readers' Choice products appear to mirror buying patterns. In our over $5,000 category, five tractors, three combines and two sprayers garnered top interest, many of which have been moving off dealer lots at a rapid pace. And, like a typical farmer looking for smaller products that can add larger efficiency, our under $5,000 category was filled with the likes of quick hitches, shop tools, truck accessories and communications devices.

We thank you for your continued support and inquiring mind. Here's a look back.

An economized Deere

When Deere unveiled its new Advantage tractor series this fall as a lower-priced entry into the 85- to 105-hp market, readers took note. "It began with our dealers, who immediately went home from the product introduction and increased their sales estimates after seeing and driving the Advantage series," says Don Worner, Deere's division manager for 6000/Advantage series tractors. "Since then, farmers have responded and customer interest has exceeded our initial projections. And we have been surprised by our sales in the Midwest, which isn't the typical market for this size tractor," he adds.

Three models are available: 6405 (85 hp), 6605 (95 hp) and 7405 (105 hp). According to Worner, customers like the engine torque, the platform and operator environment, proper speed selections, serviceability, low noise levels and the fact that the tractor is offered by Deere. "Our real challenge is to produce enough to equal our potential demand," he says. Price: $33,000 to 50,000, depending on options. See your local dealer or contact Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 231.

No more shifting

A German-born Fendt Favorit 926 Vario tractor with the revolutionary stepless CVT (continuously variable transmission) attracted big reader interest in September. Since AGCO's buyout of Fendt last January, the company has been busy previewing it to audiences across the United States.

"Farmers and dealers who have driven it are impressed with the CVT and its offering of infinite speeds from 1/200th to 31 miles per hour," says Ken Garrett, AGCO's general marketing manager for its Fendt tractor line. "The other impressive major feature cited has been the comfortable ride, due to its front-axle suspension and spring-loaded suspension under the cab. The gas accumulator system on the front axle dampens frame movement and allows it to float across the terrain," he says.

Garrett says AGCO will offer three premium-priced models, to be introduced in April into California and several other, yet undetermined, target markets. Models 920 (175 PTO hp), 924 (200 PTO hp) and 926 (230 PTO hp) are currently being "Americanized." The company is changing the track width, adding sliding rear axles (to 118 in.) and incorporating some safety features not required in Europe.

Pricing has yet to be announced, as well as which brand of dealer will be selling the tractors. Contact AGCO, Dept. FIN, 4830 River Green Pkwy., Duluth, GA 30136-2574, 770/813-9200 or circle 232.

Boomer market

Normally, the under-40-hp tractor isn't a big seller to Midwest farmers, but the New Holland Boomer line of tractors caught readers attention when it was introduced last winter. "We absolutely hit a home run with this design," says Dave Schleppi, the company's market analyst for compact tractors. "Demand has far exceeded our expectations, and we're trying to figure out ways to increase production in our new Georgia plant to meet demand."

While tractor appearance is usually well down the list when customers consider all the options, this design is really a driving force behind the Boomer's popularity, Schleppi says. Other key features, according to the company, include the industry's best seat package, easy serviceability and the SuperSteer tight turning option. "The SuperSteer option with the Sensitrack clutch has a 601/2-in. turnaround diameter without brakes, which has probably sold more tractors than any other feature," he adds.

Models available include the 1530 (25 gross engine horsepower), 1630 (27.3 hp), 1725 (29 hp) and 1925 (34 hp). "The other benefit buyers like is our full line of implements for front-, mid- and 3-pt.-mount." List price ranges from $12,400 to 18,700. See your local dealer or contact New Holland North America Inc., Dept. FIN, Box 1895, New Holland, PA 17557-0903, 717/355-1371 or circle 233.

Fast tractor

England's JCB introduced its second tractor to the U.S. market in late 1996, the compact Fastrac 1135, which captured the interest of readers. It features a 135-hp Perkins 1000 series turbocharged engine that delivers a 24% torque backup and a road speed of more than 31 mph under full load. Key features include full suspension; even weight distribution; comfortable, centrally mounted cab with good ergonomics and visibility, and four-wheel braking. JCB, gearing up to expand its North American market, doubled its dealer network this year (to 30), and plans to double it again in 1998, plus add two more tractor models to its lineup. Prices start at $97,000 for the 1135, on up to $110,000 for the 185-hp 185-65 model. Contact JCB Landpower Div., JCB Inc., Dept. FIN, 10939 Philadelphia Rd., White Marsh, MD 21162, 410/335-2800 or circle 234.

Maxxum response

When Case announced its major overhaul of the Case IH Maxxum tractor line back in March, based on farmer desires, our readers responded.

"Sales thus far indicate that the Maxxum tractor has been well received by customers, because demand has exceeded our projections," says Larry Lanie, Case's marketing specialist for Maxxum tractors. "The most popular changes, according to farmers, are the extended wheelbase, improved hydraulic power, improved visibility and the new right-hand console joystick control for increased loader productivity. More farmers are utilizing the new MX-series Maxxum as a field tractor, due to the wheelbase, more hitch lift capacity and more hydraulics at the rear outlets," he adds. "And they also are receiving a better ride in one of the quietest cabs in the industry."

For livestock producers, Lanie says, improved cycle time offered by increased hydraulic power - combined with the joystick and power shuttle - makes quick work of many chores. "These updates truly have made these four models much more versatile, compared to the original models we launched back in 1989," he says.

The four models available are: MX100 (85 PTO hp), MX110 (95 PTO hp), MX120 (105 PTO hp) and MX135 (115 PTO hp). Price ranges from $40,000 to 75,950, depending on options. See your local dealer or contact Case Corp., Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404-3392, 414/636-6011 or circle 235.

A painted Gleaner

When AGCO broke 74 years of tradition by painting its R-Series Gleaner combines silver this summer, they were concerned about what Gleaner loyalists would think. "Fortunately, we heard nothing but positive response to the change, as well as the other electrical and mechanical updates we made," says Jerry Weaver, the company's general marketing manager for combines.

"More than just paint, our customers praised the new patented SmarTrac lateral tilt header control that automatically keeps the header following the ground contour, especially the auto header height and return-to-cut feature," he adds. Other well-accepted additions to the line mentioned by growers are the variable-speed drive on the corn head and the turret unloading system option to help augers reach taller trucks or grain carts.

Weaver says that the final fine-tuning of AGCO's yield/moisture monitoring GPS system, called FieldStar, is now complete. The system includes a touch-screen DataTouch command center that records and displays all key harvest functions, yield sensor that measures grain flow in the clean grain elevator, moisture sensor in the grain bin unloading tube, DGPS receiver and antenna (for Coast Guard/Army Corps of Engineers radio beacons or for satellites) and a communications unit. A dot matrix printer also is available for printing data in the cab. The office support package consists of two data transfer cards, a data card reader and Windows-compatible mapping software. AGCO dealers will have units ready for installation in January.

Base prices on the R-Series rotary combines range from $115,000 to 173,000. See your local dealer or contact AGCO, Dept. FIN, 4830 River Green Pkwy., Duluth, GA 30136-2574, 770/813-9200 or circle 236.

Cat's acre-eater

Offer a better product and the world will beat a path to your door. Such was the experience for Caterpillar as farmers flocked to its tent at the fall farm shows to climb aboard its Lexion combine. This high-performance, German-originated combine (containing both Claas and Cat technology) was a top product among our readers as well, capturing this award in not just one but two issues.

Many farmers wanted to see the Lexion themselves, touted as a record-setting harvesting machine. "During our numerous demonstrations of all four models across the Midwest this fall, farmers gained a lot of respect for its incredible appetite for corn, soybeans and milo, especially when they got behind the wheel," says Ron Havekost, Caterpillar's commercial manager for the Lexion.

The combine's high harvest capacity is due to its threshing design. The Lexion features an Accelerated Pre-Separation (APS) system that allows up to 30% more grain to be separated before threshing, meaning less grain must pass through the main cylinder, which results in a more uniform crop flow and higher-quality grain. "Another feature that impressed farmers was the three-dimensional sieve system that spreads grain evenly on the sieve to keep it full, even on slopes up to 20 percent," Havekost says. Growers also liked the automatic guidance system on the 8- and 12-row corn head, even in down-corn situations; the grain tank covers that can be closed in inclement weather; and the flotation ability of the Mobil-trac undercarriage system in wet condition, he adds.

Four models are being offered for delivery before the 1998 fall harvest: the conventional Lexion 460 and 465, which feature straw walkers and are powered by a 290-hp Cat 3126 diesel engine, and the Lexion 480 and 485 dual-rotary separation models, powered by a 365-hp Cat 3176C turbocharged diesel powerplant. The 460 and 480 are driven by tires, while the other two use Cat's Mobil-trac system. Lexion list price ranges from $149,000 to 265,000 without headers, with header prices ranging from $12,000 to 53,000. Contact Caterpillar Inc., Dept. COM/FIN, Box 10097, Peoria, IL 61612-0097, 800/882-4228 or circle 237.

New Axial-flow

Building on the strength of its 2100 series, Case introduced the new 2300 Axial-flow combine in late fall to strong reader acclaim.

"During our Axial-flow demonstration tours, farmers were impressed with numerous changes we made to the 2300," says Kelly Kravig, combine marketing manager for Case. "The biggest response from customers involved our improvement in engine horsepower, and how the fuel pump opens up to generate more power when the combine encounters tough conditions - to keep the system operating at peak efficiency."

And farmers who face mature, dry soybeans that still have green stems have been impressed with the durability provided by the improved rotor skin thickness under these tough conditions, Kravig says. "And for added harvesting performance, the 3-speed rotor drive on the 2388 helps match the machine to the conditions. Plus the new in-cab tailings monitor allows operators to watch tailings volume (in eight-segment LCD format) so they can vary ground speed and make sieve and rotor changes to maximize efficiency," he adds. Other changes to the 2300 line include stronger feeder components for improved durability; improved Advanced Farming System (factory installed) with new GPS antenna, new dual DGPS receiver and new mapping software; automatic temperature control in the cab; and optional flotation tires. Base prices for corn/soybean machines: $160,000 for 2344 with 4-row head; $179,000 for 2366 with 6-row head; $204,000 for 2388 with 8-row head. Contact Case Corp., Dept. FIN, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53404-3392, 414/636-6011 or circle 238.

Spraying machine

Deere's entrance into the custom sprayer market was heralded with rave reviews from dealers when its 4700 self-propelled sprayer was introduced over a year ago. And despite the hefty price tag (although competitive with other custom-applicator-type self-propelled rigs), our readers took notice, too.

"The 4700 has done exceedingly well, and customers who own one have given us very positive feedback," says Brian Payne, Deere's sprayer division marketing manager. "The quality cab environment and operator comfort is often listed as a favorite feature, along with the comfortable ride due to an air-spring suspension system," he says. "The other benefit, cited by dealers and large farmers alike, is the 4700's spraying accuracy due to an easy-to-use SprayStar vehicle and rate control system."

New on the 1998 model is an optional 80- or 90-ft. boom. Both sizes feature a unique, three-dimensional cross section that is claimed to provide structural strength, unlimited nozzle spacing capability and enhanced nozzle protection. Three types of suspensions support the booms: vertical, center-pivot roll and yaw. Vertical features an accumulator in the lift-cylinder hydraulic lines, which cushions the boom ride vertically for a constant spray height. The center-pivot roll allows the boom to follow the same attitude as the machine on sidehills and terraces, and the yaw suspension ties the left and right wings together to reduce stress when turning and provide more uniform wingtip speed. And both 80- and 90-ft. booms can fold back for operation at 60-ft. width.

Other features include independent wing-leveling cylinders to raise or lower the boom to match the terrain and 7 ft. breakaway sections on outer wings to guard against boom. And these new booms can be retrofitted for 1997 models. Average price: $125,000. See your local dealer or contact Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 239.

Tractorlike sprayer

When we first featured the lower-cost Apache 560 self-propelled sprayer last spring, farmers took a liking to its simple, rugged design, modeled after a tractor. "The farmers we've had demo our early models like the quality ride, the rugged powertrain, and the good visibility and comfort from the John Deere cab," says Jim Bates, vice president of sales and marketing for Equipment Technologies.

Powered by a Cummins 110-hp engine, the Apache 560 features a 4-speed synchromesh transmission with torque converter and hydraulic forward/reverse shuttle shift to provide the feel of a hydrostatic drive with the simplicity of a mechanical drive. "Farmers also like its ride, due to a 13-ft. wheelbase, large 46-in. tires on back and an air-ride seat," Bates says. Other features include a 500-gal. tank, 60-ft. Hardi Eagle bifold boom with 31-in. crop clearance, swing-away steps, 5-gal. rinse tank and a hydraulically driven centrifugal pump.

"Boom quality also is a benefit according to our customers, who tell us it rides level in rough fields without the aid of costly suspension systems," Bates adds. The company also plans to add to its sprayer line in the coming months. Price: $66,000 to 74,000, depending on options. Contact Equipment Technologies, Dept. FIN, 2321 Executive Dr., Indianapolis, IN 46241, 317/390-2104 or circle 240.

Four-door Fords

While 4-door Crew Cab pickups weren't exactly new when we wrote about them last February, the real news was their gaining popularity at a time when truck makers were pushing extended cabs and 3-doors to urbanites. Ford, which garnered the most reader interest for its posh F-series Crew Cabs, now has raised the bar with its new Super Duty line of F-series trucks (as reported in our December issue, page 18).

"The farm market has long been an important market for us, and farmers have responded, because 50 percent of the pickup trucks on farms are Fords," says Joe Koenig, Ford's public affairs product and marketing specialist. "And our new Super Duty F-series line will continue to improve sales."

The Super Duty was designed to offer almost custom-built rigs for a wide variety of buyers. The Super Duty offers more cab room (9 in. longer) and load-carry capacity and buyers can pick and choose among 44 cab and feature options to configure their truck. The series includes a standard 4-door SuperCab (plus the 4-door Crew Cab), the industry's first six-speed transmission, the first commercial PTO option on an automatic transmission and a Ford first F-550. What sets the new Super Duty F-250, 350, 450 and 550 apart from Ford's regular F-150 and 250 models is their heavy-duty frame, which starts at 8,500 lbs gross vehicle weight (GVW, vehicle weight plus payload) and goes up to 19,000 lbs. Three new engine options were added: a gas 5.4-liter V-8 and 6.8-liter V-10, plus a Navistar International 7.3-liter Powerstroke V-8 diesel.

The Super Duty trucks should be arriving on dealer lots this month. See your local Ford dealer or contact Ford Motor Co., Dept. FIN, 300 Renaissance, Box 43303, Rm. 3728B, Detroit, MI 48243, 313/446-7730 or circle 241.

Dryers with a brain

Beard Industries' new Quantum dryer controller, sold on its low-profile and tower-type Meyer and Superb Energy Miser grain dryers, drew a lot of interest from readers last fall. Claimed to be unlike the programmable logic controllers (PLC) currently on the market, the Quantum uses a rugged 486 computer with CD-ROM drive coupled with flat-plate moisture sensors. It is claimed to fully control the quantity of grain dried - to a specified quality - while delivering only the amount of properly dried grain that your transfer system can handle.

The uniqueness of this controller, according to the company, lies in the hardware and software. The easy to use control system features simple menu-driven screens with pop-up boxes to quickly change settings. It can be set in auto or manual mode, or even customized further by selecting moisture-priority or temperature-priority. And if the grain is drying faster than your take-away augers can handle, the computer automatically backs off the temperature to slow the amount of grain dried.

Another unique feature to the controller, according the company, is its self-diagnostics and troubleshooting capability. If the dryer shuts down, logical information (not codes) appears to help explain possible causes, and schematics are provided to suggest steps to correct the problem to help the farmer or service person.

According to Brent Bloemendaal, Beard's director of engineering, farmers have been impressed with the simplicity of this complex controller and all its capabilities, and they like the fact that the controller can be remotely mounted in a nearby building. Contact Beard Industries, Dept. FIN, 1750 State Rd. 28, Frankfort, IN 46041-9146, 800/541-7900 or circle 242.

Quick grain mover

Despite all the hype about semitrucks taking over the on-farm grain-moving industry, Dethmers' Demco 550-bu. GF550 gravity-flow wagon caught the eye of many readers last January. It is the smallest model of the company's new family of boxes, which also includes the GF650 and GF750. "Our GF650 is our current top seller, primarily because it allows farmers to put two combine loads into it, since the larger combines today accommodate 300 bushels," says Tom Sheffield, vice president, marketing and sales for Demco.

These wagons feature 12-ga.-steel construction, 30 degree side and 40 degree end pitch, 60-in. unload door, extendable tongue with lift-assist spring for easy hookup, view windows, brakes, lights and a heavy-duty running gear. "Farmers like these boxes because they empty out faster and better, they're heavier made, they have a quality appearance and we provide quality service, as do our dealers," Sheffield says.

Price range for a complete wagon: $8,452 to 11,151. And look for the company to introduce a line of grain carts at farm shows this winter. Contact Demco-Dethmers Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, Box 189, Boyden, IA 51234, 800/543-3626 or circle 243.