The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge take to the wheel of a Valtra N174V during a visit to Manor Farm

A Valtra N-series tractor belonging to a County Durham-based family farm attracted world-wide news and social media coverage recently when it was driven by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The N174 Versu is one of two Valtras used on the 200ha mixed farm at Little Stainton, near Darlington by Clare Wise Chapman and her husband Stewart Chapman. Trading as JM & M&M Wise, the farm has belonged to Clare’s family since 1875 and she is the fifth generation to farm there. Arable crops include wheat, barley and beans, and 70ha of grass leys are included within a five-year rotation for livestock grazing and fodder.

Brian Robinson Area Sales Representative Andrew Chapman (left), with farmers Clare Wise Chapman and Stewart Chapman and their two Valtra tractors.

Clare manages the farm’s 450 ewes which are mainly Continental crosses producing top grade lambs for the butchers’ market. Stewart is responsible for arable cropping and looks after 50 British Blue suckler cows crossed with Limousin bulls with progeny destined for Morrisons or sold through Darlington livestock market. Farm work is shared, and three daughters aged five, eight and nine mean work is planned to fit around family life where possible, although school homework is sometimes completed in the lambing sheds. “We have an agreement that in December and January we only work daylight hours,” explained Stewart. “Calving starts from 1st February and lambing starts in early March but we know that for two months before, when short days and winter weather make working difficult, things should be quieter.”

“Our objective is to farm sustainably but profitably,” he continued. “We are reducing our carbon footprint and send our wheat to a local mill for feed processing and are growing beans this year to replace soya within our TMR – as soya travels halfway around the world to reach us.”

Manure is returned to the land which reduces fertiliser costs and improves the soil structure, and cultivations are minimised. The farm has also invested in technology to increase its working efficiency and reduce the labour requirement and costs.

Improving the fleet

Until last year a mixed brand fleet of three tractors and a telehandler was used. “I couldn’t operate three tractors at once and there was constant pressure due to lack of time to get things done. Our main tractor was modern but unreliable, and I constantly worried about whether it would complete time-critical field work without breaking down, and the likely cost of repairs if it did,” said Stewart.

“We decided to replace the three tractors with two which were more versatile, and equipped with GPS guidance and autosteer to improve efficiency and reduce driver fatigue.”

Stewart and Clare with their Valtra N174 Versu.


After considering various brands and consulting his local Valtra dealer Brian Robinson Machinery Ltd, Stewart selected a six month old Valtra T234 Direct with front linkage, variable-rate steering, and the balance of its three-year warranty remaining. It was equipped with Valtra’s SmartTouch terminal which is used to set up and monitor most tractor and implement functions, and it also provides GPS guidance and autosteer. “I had heard good reports about Valtra and knew I could rely on the Brian Robinson team for back-up,” he explained. “The unladen weight is less than many competitor tractors and the front linkage makes it easy to remove the front weight block when it isn’t needed to minimise soil damage. The Direct CVT transmission is great as we have very variable soils and steep slopes, so for tasks such as drilling we can maintain a constant speed as conditions vary.”

“It’s a big tractor which pulls well, but is also very nimble,” he continued. “The cab is spacious and comfortable and autosteer allows me to work accurately and get more done without feeling as tired. In the past I often suffered headaches after concentrating on the bout markers and controls all day, but now the tractor steers itself with no overlapping or misses and the headland management system ensures every headland turn is the same. The SmartTouch terminal is superb – it’s user-friendly, easy to operate and the ability to store settings for each implement and task is a great feature. I feel much less tired now after long days in the fields, so the risk of accidents is reduced too.”

Clare also drives a tractor during busy periods, and when a breakdown occurred during harvest last year, BRM Ltd loaned a second T234 tractor so that work could continue. “That sort of back-up is definitely beyond what anyone could expect, especially as the tractor which broke down was a different brand from another dealer,” said Stewart. “It confirmed that our second new tractor should also be a Valtra.”

HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge drives the Valtra N174 Versu under the watchful eye of farmer Stewart Chapman. (Courtesy of the NFU/Nigel Whitefield Photography)

Catherine Duchess of Cambridge found out about the benefits of Valtra precision farming equipment during a demonstration and test drive accompanied by farmer Stewart Chapman. (Courtesy of the NFU/Nigel Whitefield Photography)

Ideal solution

The green Valtra N174 Versu with a factory-fitted front loader was purchased early in 2021, and Stewart said it ticked all the right boxes. Like the T234 it had a front linkage and variable rate steering, and a similar SmartTouch display meant it was identical to set up and use making it easier for operators to share tasks and machines. It was 18 months’ old, had worked 1,500 hours and was still under warranty. “For a 4-cylinder tractor it’s amazing,” continued Stewart. “The powershift transmission is almost as flexible and smooth as a CVT. The cab is superb and the tractor has plenty of power. It’s a real pocket rocket and it’s just what we needed to complement our T234.”

The Valtra N174 Versu is equipped with a front loader, mainly for loading bale trailers in the field.

Royal visit

Stewart and Clare were asked by their local NFU representative to host the royal visitors.  “We were told that they wanted to find out how typical family farms cope with juggling farm and family life,” explained Stewart. During a preparation meeting he explained how investment in precision farming technology is helping make better use of limited time available, and his offer of a tractor test drive was eagerly accepted. “I was assured that both Kate and William would want to try it,” he added.

The day started with a farm tour, then a socially-distanced discussion involved the royal couple plus Stewart and Clare, four other farmers from the local area and the NFU representative debating topics such as Covid-19 restrictions, mental health, the COP26 climate conference and reducing carbon emissions. “We were pleased to find that both Kate and William had a good understanding of the issues facing farming, and their views and opinions were realistic and practical. Everyone involved felt some reassurance for the future,” said Stewart.

The Valtra T234 Direct does most of the heavy cultivations and is also ideal for transport tasks explains Stewart Chapman.

Valtra experience

The ValtraGuide demonstration was on a grass field next to the yard. Stewart talked William through the functions of the SmartTouch terminal and explained how it can improve the farm’s efficiency from time savings setting up implements, to improving accuracy and work output through autosteer. Prince William then drove the N174, accompanied by Stewart, and tried out the automatic steering. Then Stewart did the same with Kate. “William had experienced GPS guidance while flying helicopters, but I think that both he and Kate were surprised that the Valtra’s systems are so adaptable. The demonstration highlighted that modern tractors don’t just pull heavy loads and whereas only a few years ago a small mixed farm like ours couldn’t have justified this sort of kit – now it’s essential to achieve the productivity we need. They both saw the benefits of autosteer and appreciated how it improves performance while reducing stress and fatigue for the driver.”

Constructive visit

“We feel privileged to have been visited by Kate and William and enjoyed the day,” concluded Clare. “They were friendly, pleasant and easy to chat to and having met them and discussed so many issues affecting farming we are reassured for the future. They wanted to visit a true family farm and we feel we gave them that experience. We made the most of the opportunity to explain the issues we face while balancing family life with running the farm, and are confident they gained a lot from their time with us.”