Contractor profile: Chamberlain Agriculture

Chamberlain Agriculture’s new JCB Fastrac 4220 is working the hard yards in tandem with an older machine wearing the same nameplate

During any given workday, contractor Dean Chamberlain has to think on his feet. Or his gumboots at any rate. When I turn up at Dean’s Sheffield depot, about 45 minutes’ drive west of Christchurch on the main road to Arthur’s Pass, he’s in crisis management mode.

Chamberlain Agriculture’s latest fleet addition is a new JCB Fastrac 4220 sporting a Landquip 2524 demount sprayer and Vision 1500 front tank

A quick handshake and it’s into his ute and we’re away: he has a tractor a few kilometres away that’s stranded road-side, having blown a hose and dumped its coolant.

With enough work to keep 14 staff busy at this time of year – in crews spread liberally across the Selwyn District and beyond – standing still isn’t an option. Baleage and silage are Dean’s core services, although, as I’ll learn later, spraying is also a big part of what Chamberlain Agriculture does.

Somewhat serendipitously under the circumstances, the inert tractor has come to a halt across the road from a water tank. The hole in the hose is soon jury-rigged out of existence, but with the idea of running back and forth between tank and tractor with a 750ml water bottle (the only plastic receptacle of any volume anyone present has on them) to refill the tank clearly not ideal, Dean strikes upon a Red Band remedy.

Two or three water-filled gumboot trips later and Dean’s team is back on the road. Although it has to be said, this particular low-tech solution is an anomaly in an otherwise high-tech operation.

On the fast track

The new JCB Fastrac range has received plenty of praise

Chamberlain Agriculture’s latest fleet addition is a new JCB Fastrac 4220 sporting a Landquip 2524 demount sprayer and Vision 1500 front tank. It’s not the only bright yellow JCB machine in Dean’s yard by any stretch; the company operates JCB telehandlers and the Fastrac 4220 replaces an older Fastrac 3170 on frontline spraying duties.

“The older machine has been excellent, so it was a no-brainer to update with the 4000 Series machine when the time came.

“The old machine has around 10,000 hours on it while the new machine has only done 200 or so. It’ll get its first service at about the 600-hour mark.

“Because we have a widespread client base and the JCB can comfortably cruise at road speed, it works well for us. It has more power than the previous machine and really good visibility from the cab.

The new machine has more power than the previous iteration and great visibility from the cab

“We get into some pretty rough country up in the hills too, so the JCB is very well-sprung and suited to working that sort of terrain,” says Dean, who as a local lad cut his teeth as a rural contractor crop spraying back in the early 1980s.

Other business opportunities – including a transport business – have seen him wear various hats in the intervening years, but he came full circle in 2006, buying an established rural contracting operation from which Chamberlain Agriculture has since evolved.

Cultivating a scene

JCB Fastrac 4220 operator Hamish Friedman

With the JCB Fastrac 4220 and its dedicated operator Hamish Friedman currently making their way back from a job at Craigieburn Station about two hours away, Dean takes me on a tour of some of the other contracting work Chamberlain Agriculture is presently engaged in.

Across on the northern side of the Waimakariri River near Oxford, he’s running one of his Case IH Optum 300s; this one is right in the middle of a two-day 80-hectare cultivation job on a Dairy Holdings-operated run-off block as the land is prepped for fodder beet.

Dean likes his Case IH tractors as much as his JCBs and says the Horsch Terrano 4MT cultivator that driver Kayleigh is dragging along behind today has proven another good weapon in the firm’s toolkit.

“Kayleigh is from the UK and we have eight more staff arriving from the UK ahead of summer,” Dean says. “We’ve got a good network of contacts for seasonal staff; you need good people on your machines, as much to make sure the gear is working efficiently as to know it’s being looked after as best it can be.

“Come peak season, we’re completing big days – just like everyone else – so if machinery is coming back to base each night in the same working condition that it left that morning, then that’s one less headache. Stuff happens of course as you saw earlier, but being able to manage the issue, or at least get the distributor to come and help you out, is crucial.”

Selwyn irrigation scheme

Dean says the second stage of the Selwyn (Central Plains Water) irrigation scheme is set to be a game changer for the Sheffield area. Prone to drought, Dean says he’s keen to see a full season under his belt with the scheme in place.

“I think it has the capacity to even out our earnings as a business. There’s obviously no accounting for the weather, but if the farmers have more consistency, then that should obviously translate well for us too,” he says.

The Central Plains Water scheme has been a long time in the making, with around 30 farms covering a total footprint of approximately 4300 hectares a part of it. The Sheffield area being higher up in the plains meant that the scheme was established in two stages, with a separate intake and storage reservoir serving the local area through 23km of pipeline.

Dean Chamberlain loves his Claas forager, saying it is very powerful and high-tech

In total, 37km of large diameter pipe feed seven pumping stations as part of the scheme. Our next port of call borders the Waimakariri River itself, where Chamberlain Agriculture’s year-old Kuhn four-rotor rake (towed by another Case IH; this one a 160hp Puma 155) is forming windrows ahead of Dean’s Claas Jaguar 970 forager doing its thing.

Dean says that thanks to its hydraulic drive system, the Kuhn has proven itself as a very low-maintenance implement since he purchased it, while he’s endlessly impressed by the Claas forager also.

“The Claas chopper is a beast – very powerful and very high-tech. The camera at the end of the discharge spout is pretty clever; it continually scans the silage level during the run and adjusts the silage output to suit. It’s very precise, so there’s no guesswork and minimal material loss.”

Big drive, big job

The Horsch Terrano 4MT cultivator being used here is in high demand at this time of year

Back at Chamberlain Agriculture’s yard, Hamish Friedman and the JCB Fastrac 4220 have finally returned from this morning’s commute out of the alpine hills and back onto the plains.

There’s no rest for the proverbial though, with Hamish now tasked with a short 18-hectare spraying job. Having done some big distances already today, it’s probably with some (quiet) relief that the next paddock is almost within sight of headquarters, just a kilometre or so further down SH73.

A rare view of Chamberlain Agriculture’s local patch without the majestic Southern Alps in the background

“The new machine is excellent,” says Hamish, reiterating the boss’s opinion about the JCB Fastrac 4220.

“I could list the added features it has over the old machine, but we’d be here all day. It’s a real step up.

“It’s very agile and easy to use. The cabin controls are fully adjustable, which means I have a better seating position with more visibility.”

Fastrac 4000 Series tractors – of which there are three models: 175hp, 208hp, and Dean’s 235hp example – have been receiving plenty of plaudits for their advanced suspension and damping control, and an ultra-smooth-riding chassis providing more stability for spraying and spreading with consistent working heights achievable.

The camera at the end of the Claas’ discharge spout continually scans the silage level during the run and adjusts output to suit

Mounted implements are cushioned from shocks and jolts by axle suspension front and rear, not just by hydraulic linkage damping.

“You’ve got to look after your spray booms and the Landquip sprayer is really well designed,” Dean adds. “It’s a good mix to have the JCB and the Landquip sprayer in one package. But if we need to use the JCB for another task, the sprayer can be demounted in around 15 minutes.

“We have to replace machinery reasonably frequently; it’s just the nature of the work. But you still want to get the best out of each new machine, so you have to have a really reliable machine to start with. We haven’t had any majors with our JCB gear, so we’ll always look at them to give us what we need.” Seems like a sound ethos, for machinery and gumboots alike.

Photography: Cameron Officer

Previous ArticleNext Article
Send this to a friend