JCB 531-70 Agri Super Test
Having driven telehandlers in limited amounts here and there, Jaiden Drought was eager to see how these machines slotted into daily farming life and how they coped with the tasks your standard tractor usually sinks its teeth into.
With much talk in the news about the Northern Mystics recent antics on the netball court, particularly in regards to a certain line-out type move called the 'chair lift' technique or the 'Harrison hoist' as I like to refer to it, this month I tested a much more subtle and sophisticated lifting technique using the JCB Agri Super 531-70.
I am happy to report that the JCB exceeded my expectations to the point where if you have a tractor that spends most of its life loading, your money would be better spent on one of these. You literally drive around the farm darting in and out of paddocks, giving things a bit of a tickle up just because the opportunities and limitations are almost endless with these machines.
The 531-70 Agrisuper comes standard with the world record holding 130hp JCB Dieselmax engine dubbed the 444, four-cylinder, four-litre with four valves per cylinder. Ok, so the world beating engine was used in a slightly different situation where two of the JCB Dieselmax engines were strapped together on a specifically designed car and the net result being it reached 563.418kph to become the world's fastest diesel car in 2006.
Thankfully the Loadall only does 40kph and frankly much more than that would result in your teeth being smashed out of your head. Overall it is quite hard to gauge how well an engine performs when all you are doing is loading but you can really climb into the silage face so it gets the power to the ground and it does power the large hydraulic pump effectively so the one thing I can categorically tell you is that it is not there just for show. The one-piece hood folds up easily to expose all of the major daily service points as well as the fold-out cooling package is easy to clean. Although on the Agri super this actually is easier than anticipated with a reverse fan which allows you to blow off any debris from the comfort of the cab. Furthermore most service intervals, including boom wax application are at 500 hours.
The Agri Super comes standard with a six-speed power shift torque convertor transmission where gears 4, 5 and 6 are shifted up or down automatically. Many will be familiar with the torque converter transmission particularly those who have had experience with loaders. You end up cruising along the road and when you come to a hill the torque is needed in the engine, taking it away from the transmission resulting in you revving the bajingas out of the engine and achieving very little in terms of ground speed. This is where the patented 'Torque Lock' from JCB comes into play. This automatically takes over in fifth and sixth gear to eliminate torque converter slippage, increasing speed, saving time and fuel, and allowing you to go faster uphill as the engine is allowed to lug down. The six speed trans comes with three main operating modes, Eco, Power and Field. Eco is mainly used for haulage applications, power is the mode I used which is the best for loading and general work and field is best suited to an application where towing a trailer at a fixed speed is the order of the day. My only gripe was the shuttle was very aggressive for an industrial machine although it was brand new so this may have just needed to be re-calibrated for smoother uptake.
This is the main reason you buy one of these machines over and above a tractor, so a few little crafty things that JCB have come up with will ensure that it stays straight (a big plus) and continues doing its job with minimal downtime. The first thing I noticed which impressed me is that the nose of the boom is all in one piece, which means that the boom is not angle cut and another short drop welded on to create an obvious weak spot. The booms are U-shaped pressed and use fully welded closing plate incorporating thick, heavily reinforced sections with boom overlap between inner and outer sections is over a metre ensuring no boom distortion. The second piece that impressed me was the keyhole castings to attach the tilt, lift and extension rams. The lift rams are centrally mounted to avoid offset stresses and twisting of the boom with the hoses routed inside the boom for extra protection (and improved visibility). The only thing I found difficult in regards to the boom and attachments was due to the top of the bucket not having a flat edge. When the boom was right in, it was hard to gauge what the cutting edge was doing however when the boom was out you can stick your head out the side window and see with ease even though you look like Ace Ventura.
If you were to judge the entire machine on the noise it makes when you turn the key you are probably more likely to rip your eyes out than buy one of these, but apart from the noise which really cuts through you, the cab is a pleasant place to spend the day.
Obviously given the lack of space available for you to mount a cab on a telehandler it isn't the roomiest nor does it offer the best visibility, but given what little space they had to work with JCB have done exceptionally well.
New on this series is the forward reverse shuttle lever on the back side of the joystick which allows you to do everything you want with your right hand leaving the left to do solely steering. The joystick covers lifting, crowding, extension and the third service (or diverter to hydraulic hitch). The shuttle lever is still on the left for those who are used to that on their tractor. The only thing I found peculiar about the joystick was that it didn't allow you to shake the crowd ram very effectively. For example when you're loading silage and you have some left on the forks you just shake the joystick and it usually shakes it off. This never really happened with the JCB, because when you moved the joystick it seemed to have a delay. To be fair this could potentially have been adjusted by the technicians but because the machine was new, it hadn't been tinkered with yet.
Overall I thought the cab was very comfortable and the instruments were well laid out and effortless to use. The seat was comfortable and for a small cab offered surprising leg room even for taller operators like myself.
Being an industrial loader you naturally anticipate that the hydraulics will be much faster and smoother than on your standard tractor. This is true but not by chance, as the 130hp engine gives the Agri super's 140l/min hydraulic pump with load sensing feature the oomph plus the ability to have 'dial-up' constant-flow SCV's at the rear for driving a silage wagon or tipping a trailer or whatever the task may be. JCB's boom suspension is dubbed 'Smoothride' which works like a damper on any normal loader. Driving the machine on the races and the road was really noticeable if this feature was switched off, as the machine bounced all over the show and was far more comfortable to have the boom suspension on all the time regardless of the task. The only downside is that it is done from in the cab, which is great but it turns itself off every time you turn the machine off. A manual switch would suit majority of operators better, even if it wasn't in the cab. To turn it on required the boom to be right down and was a little fiddly.
Once the boom suspension was sorted it was plain sailing and sorted out any thing that you could throw within the forward reach of 3.7 metres, lift capacity 3.1 tonnes and lift height of 7 metres. Another handy feature was the parallel lift system which kept all the fine material in the bucket when loading heaped buckets of feed, which required minimal effort.
Manoeuvrability and stability
Given the relatively narrow wheel track and the high centre of gravity with the boom up, it is easy to see how people summersault them off silage stacks but at no stage during the time I had the machine did it feel unstable. JCB like most other manufacturers offer three steering techniques which are controlled from a switch in the cab. With 2-wheel, 4-wheel and crab steer (which is fun to set some unsuspecting operator up in) plus the turning circle of just 3.7m means that manoeuvrability isn't an issue no matter the task. The JCB is automatically in 4WD all the time (can be switched into 2wd for road work) which allows you to rally get stuck into the work and in conjunction with the limited slip diff's means traction wasn't an issue either.
You need a tractor for field work there is no denying that they will do a better job but if you are in a high input system, industrial or just load heaps of stuff these things are the business. JCB has 25 Agri models with lift capacities from 2 to 4.1 tonnes, and lift heights from 4 to 9.5m so if the Agri-super isn't your cup of tea im sure you will find one in the line up to match your needs. An added bonus is you don't have to worry about the neighbour stealing it because it has a battery immobiliser, which will make him think maybe the grass really is greener on the other side!
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