Russians to invade Wimmera Machinery Field Days

For the first time in Australia, a new-model Kirovets 744R articulated tractor will be on show to the public at the Wimmera Machinery Field Days. Source: The Weekly Times

The 744R comes in four models, from 300-428hp (221-315kW), and while Russian-built tractors have been sold in Australia before, none bearing this name.

The man behind the move is executive director of the Australian Productivity Council Craig Milne, who describes the brand’s key features as “strength, ruggedness and simplicity”.

“As a young fellow, I worked for the company that used to bring in the old Soviet tractors, Belarus,” Mr Milne said. “I later joined the Productivity Council, but after a couple of years it was privatised and I bought it.

“Over the years, I’ve kept an eye on Russian machinery as the Communist regime collapsed and new economy emerged.”

Kirovets tractors are made in St Petersburg by the giant Kirov Group, which traces its beginnings to a small iron foundry established in 1789.

Mass production of tractors began in 1924 with the licensed manufacture of Fordson and, from 1932, Farmall machines, while the first big Kirovets wheeled tractor, the K-700, went into mass production in 1964.

“In the early days, the plant was a huge concern manufacturing gas turbine tanks, but as the market opened up they got the American tractors in and the Russians had to lift their game,” Mr Milne said.

“About a year ago, we visited the factory and got back into the tractor scene.”

The tractors will be distributed in Australia by APCO Machinery, a division of the Productivity Council, through an anticipated six or seven dealerships in Victoria and South Australia.

“Kirovets K-701 tractors have appeared in Australia before, but branded as Belarus — well engineered, but badly built,” Mr Milne said.

“The productivity angle is that these are simple, lower-cost machines in the face of a commonly heard view that tractors are getting too complicated and too expensive.

“The Kirovets use mechanical systems and only one computer (on the engine) — basically an old design, but modernised where needed.

“The advances have been evolutionary, but the real changes have been at the factory, where the production standards are now world-class.

“The 744R we’ll have at Longerenong will have a 12.8-litre, six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz turbo-diesel engine, though they can also come with a 17.5-litre, V8 Tutaevsky powerplant.

“This model was released just last year, but interest in Australia is mainly in the broadacre market for the 428hp machine.

“The axles locked in default are key to their traction, only unlocking on turns, and the constant-mesh, hydro-mechanical transmission (16 forward/eight reverse within four ranges) boosts fuel efficiency.”

A floating drawbar and category IV three-point linkage with Walterscheid lower links are fitted as standard, as are load-sensing Bosch Rexroth 180 litre per minute hydraulics.

Duals and a 1000rpm PTO, with a choice of three output shafts, are optional extras.

“They’re cheap to service and parts aren’t expensive – I’ve had people digging out old K- 701 tractors asking me for parts and I can get them all,” Mr Milne said.

“A smaller version is coming in about 18 months, rated at 180-240hp (132-176kW), which will have a road speed of 50km/h and a new Austrian-designed diesel engine.

“There’s also a 500hp (367kW) version in the pipeline with CVT, also probably 18 months off.

“The basic 744R, as seen at Longerenong, weighs 17 tonnes and will cost around $274,000 (+GST), but extras could include tracks and autosteer — they come wired for Trimble.

“We won’t sell a lot of tractors initially, but in the long run we’d hope to do well.”