Versatility with an extra dimension
20 years ago, Merlo unveiled their first Multifarmers. The Italian manufacturer’s telehandler-tractor combination won prizes the following year at Agritechnica 2001, where the Multifarmer was awarded a silver medal. However, development started much earlier. With almost 3,000 units produced, the machine was a success.
Merlo, like many Italian manufacturers, began by developing and producing telehandlers and mobile concrete mixers for construction work. At the end of the 1980s, the potential of the telescopic handler for agricultural use gradually became apparent. The engineers considered the idea and developed a telescopic handler purely for the agricultural sector. The Turbofarmer was born. Merlo, who as a manufacturer consider close contact with customers very important, did not stop after the development of the Turbofarmer. The engineers looked for a way to make the already versatile telescopic handler even more versatile. On the farms where the Turbofarmers were used, there was not always a need for large engine or lifting capacities. Yet there was a telescopic handler and at least one tractor in the yard. Merlo figured that by equipping a telescopic handler with a lifting device and a PTO, it could take the place of the tractor on the farm. What followed was calculations and drawings, a first prototype and finally in 2000 the presentation of the Multifarmer, where the “multi” in the name refers to the extra versatility.
The Merlo Multifarmer was well received. The telescopic handler did not only receive multiple prizes, such as the silver medal at Agritechnica 2001, but the public was enthusiastic. The first Multifarmers introduced were the MF30.6 and MF30.9 models. Both models could lift 3 tons, one to a height of 6 meters, the other to 9 meters. They were equipped with 4 cylinder Deutz turbo engines with intercooler, producing 115 hp. Soon, smaller models MF27.8 (2.7 tonnes to 8m height) and MF29.6 (2.9 tonnes to 6m height) which both had an engine power of 102hp, followed. The engine power of the different models, 102 and 115 hp, was sufficient to drive a decent (disc) mower, tedder and rake, to carry out light tillage or to do simple sowing work. And that’s exactly where Merlo wanted to position the Multifarmer. Merlo never envisaged that the Multifarmer telescopic handlers would be used as tractors on large arable farms. They were looking to reach smaller dairyfarms. The combination of light tractor work and the versatility of the telehandler made the Multifarmers the partner of these farmers. With one machine it was possible to mow, shake and rake, afterwards the bales of hay could be loaded and removed from the field and the grass could be administered fertilizer.
A Merlo survey of customers showed that a standard telescopic handler was used for approximately 600 hours per year. By equipping the telescopic handler with a lifting device and PTO, the application possibilities of the machine increased remarkably. Multifarmers with more than 1,000 hours of performance per year were no exception.
For the users, it was an adjustment to go into the field with the Multifarmer. The usually spacious tractor cab was exchanged for a more compact telehandler cab, which was also on the left instead of central. In addition, the Multifarmers were (and still are) on equally small (or large) wheels at the front and rear. At first, there were fears about the transmission of the pulling power, but the Multifarmers have a permanent hydrostatic four-wheel drive, so those fears quickly proved unfounded. The portal axles, which Merlo developed itself, also ensured that the Multifarmers had sufficient ground clearance for ploughing, for example. Since the basis of the telescopic handlers was a telescopic handler, no compromises were made in the area of material handling. In addition to sufficient lifting capacity and lifting height, the view of the lifting arm remained optimal. This meant that the view to the rear, on the hitch and implement, was diminished somewhat. This also took some getting used to, but was not insurmountable.
Inside the cab, it was clear that the Multifamers were primarily telehandlers. With the left hand on the steering wheel, the right hand on the multi-functional joystick and the foot on the accelerator / brake pedal, the Multifarmer could be operated almost entirely. Under the steering wheel was a lever for the driving direction and a selector switch for the driving speed (16 or 40 km/h). On the right-hand side of the cabin was a console containing the display of the MERlin system, where MERlin stands for MERLO Local Interactive Network. In the basic Classic2 version, the MERlin system was replaced by a standard analogue dashboard. In the Top2 luxury version with the MERlin system, the machine parameters were read out on a digital screen that was controlled by a computer system. This system could also be used, for example, to activate the working and warning lights, to switch the power take-off on and off or to activate the differential lock. As a bonus, the MERlin system could also be used as an anti-theft system, something that was generally not taken into account 20 years ago.
Merlo took a risk in developing the Multifarmer. The cost of such a development should not be underestimated and if the machines are not well received, the company’s image will also be damaged. But 20 years and almost 3,000 Multifamers later, Merlo can look back on a success. The Multifarmer was followed by several competitors, including the Landini Powerlift/McCormick Teletrac and the Manitou Manitrac, but all these projects disappeared into archives and museums. It is unclear whether the ideas were not ripe or whether the manufacturers did not think the effort was worth it. What is clear is that the Multifarmer has earned its place in Merlo’s range. At this moment Merlo has 8 different Multifarmers on the market. These have a lifting capacity of 3.4 or 4 tonnes and reach heights of 7 and 9 metres. The “small” Multifarmer has a power of 136hp and his big brother has an engine power of 170hp. In order to respond to specific demands from (potential) customers, Merlo has also developed an extensive package of options for the unique telescopic handler tractor.
Text: Antoon Vanderstraeten – Images: Antoon Vanderstraeten & manufacturer
This article appeared in Farmers of Europe 1-2021