Having spent a fair amount of time visiting farms in Europe, I can verify that the telehandler has become nearly as common as the regular ag tractor on farms there.
Farmers, often cramped for space, value the material handling ability of these machines in everything from loading grain to stacking bales.
For several years now, Italian company Merlo has offered its Multifarmer line of telehandlers. They push the capabilities of those machines into the realm of the regular ag tractor while keeping a superior ability to lift and place loads.
Merlo and other brands — JCB the most notable among them — have been working to impress North American farmers with the telehandlers their European cousins have valued for years and with some success. Executives from more than one of those brands have told me they are slowly gaining ground.
Merlo recently added more power and lifting capability to its Multifarmer line in an effort to deliver a telehandler hybrid that appeals to an even larger group of Canadian farmers. The 40.9 model bumps PTO horsepower up to 156 and can lift a load of 4,000 kilograms to 8.8 metres. It can also safely reach that load 5.8 m horizontally.
“This machine is an amazing chore tractor. It’s not just a hay stacker,” says Dave Smit, the brand’s Western Canada representative. “It has 156 horsepower on the PTO. You can hang 15,500 pounds (7,030 kg) off the three-point hitch arms.”
The rear PTO, auxiliary hydraulic remotes and three-point hitch make the Multifarmer a unique machine. It’s a kind of hybrid blend of a conventional telehandler and regular MFWD ag tractor.
A fit for your farm?
The question Merlo and other brands are asking Canadian farmers is this: Is that ag tractor with front-end loader making you as efficient as you could be?
For many, the answer will be yes. But a growing segment of Canadian producers might find the telehandler as indispensable as European farmers do. The challenge for Merlo, says Smit, is making potential customers aware of what it can do.
“It’s hard breaking through paradigms and pre-conceived concepts of how you need to do a task,” he says. “We’re approaching farmers in a different way, educating them in the machine’s capabilities outside of stacking hay and letting them come up with ideas of how handy it is and how many applications it has on a farm.
“Guys say ‘I don’t need to lift 9,000 pounds in the air. I don’t have anything that heavy on the farm.’ And we agree. But that capability allows you to move your round bale feeders 20 feet away from all your paddock fences, instead of getting out of your tractor, opening the gate, driving in and closing the gate behind you.
“You can boom out and drop that bale in the feeder (over the fence) without ever having to get out of the machine.”
The low-profile design of the Multifarmer makes it easier to get in and out of the cab, something that might appeal to an aging demographic.
“It’s only two steps to climb up (into the cab) instead of having to climb way up into a front-wheel assist tractor when all you’re trying to do is hit the PTO plunger to turn the auger on,” Smit says.
“A lot of farmers we’re selling these machines to are buying them for the compactness. They love the versatility. They can get into it with maybe a half step more than getting into their pickup truck.”
Two series in the line
Merlo builds a wide range of other telehandler models. Smit has been promoting the larger 65.9 as an alternative for large-scale operators who have previously opted for light construction loaders.
“In the ag-centric world, we’ve got a new 65.9 machine which is meant to attack the compact payloader market that is popular in Alberta.”
In all, the Merlo Multifarmer line offers two series: the 34 and the 40 with two models each. Those machines give producers a choice of 3,400- or 4,000-kg lift capacities, which can reach from seven to nine metres at maximum height, and they offer power levels from 136 to 170 engine horsepower.
To run implements, they use a load-sensing hydraulic system with up to four rear remotes that offer a 150 litres per minute flow rate. Two four-wheel steering options make them more maneuverable than an ag tractor.
Operator comfort is high on these machines, with a suspended cab to even out the ride. Maximum travel speed is 40 km/h, which makes them useful for pulling heavy wagons on the road.