When Farmers Weekly last visited Godwick Hall, Robert was only looking at the classified ads.
Now, just six weeks later, he’s staring happily at a giant John Deere 8400T that takes pride of place in the farmyard.
“I bit the bullet and went for it,” says Robert, who is hoping the new machine will allow him more time to concentrate on his growing turkey business.
“The crawler should average 50 acres a day ploughing, and the flexibility of having a high-horsepower machine in front of the drill will mean no messing about changing wheels and the like.”
Although he says the farm’s soil would not suit a min-till system, the extra pulling power should cut one operation out of the cultivation and drilling process, he reckons.
“I’m also hoping to see a fuel saving because it will be doing so much more per hour.”
The 1998-registered vehicle with 3700 hours on the clock came from Thaxted-based dealer Brocks and was part of a lot acquired from a restructuring Essex business.
“I knew the farmer who sold it so I’m confident it hasn’t been worked too hard.
I wouldn’t have bought it from somebody I didn’t know,” says Robert.
As a bonus, the purchase came in under budget.
“I’d set aside £40,000 for the crawler and a new plough, but I got the John Deere for £33,0000 and a Lemken semi-mounted eight-furrow plough for £5800.”
Robert runs a machinery account for the farm and the overdraft was extended to fund the acquisition.
One of the farm’s New Holland TM165 tractors was also sold for £20,000 to help out.
“The plan is to pay it off over three years.
Over the whole arable acreage it works out at about £14.30/acre per year and I’m happy with that.”
What he and father John are not happy with is the late payment of their estimated 60,000 single farm payment.
“We’d been budgeting for it to arrive in March but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
We’ve already spoken to the bank and might have to increase our overdraft facility some more,” Robert says.
His gross margins are also not making happy reading.
“Our variable costs for feed wheat are about £94/acre, and I would expect to achieve an average yield of 4.1-4.3t/acre and an ex-farm price of about £70/t this year.
Once I put my fixed costs in, which don’t even include my labour, I will be showing a small deficit.”
In common with many other farmers, Robert is questioning the sense of even growing combinable crops, but is planning to stick with it for the time being.
“Now is not the time to jump ship.
We need to consolidate, but if you don’t crop this farm it will be a disaster, you won’t have a farm.
And I’m too proud to let the farm out on an FBT.
“The bottom line is that we still need the SFP, but in 2012 there probably won’t be an SFP so commodity prices will have to rise or we’ll all be going out of business.
If wheat was £80/t I think arable farmers would be happy and so would the livestock people, but these prices just aren’t sustainable.”
On a more positive note, Robert has just attended a media training course in London run by the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association.
“It was done in response to all the stories about avian influenza in the media and I got an awful lot out of it.
One thing that I picked up is that it’s very easy to say the wrong thing when you’re being interviewed.”
Meanwhile, John, who looks after the farm’s environmental schemes, has agreed an entry level and higher level scheme with the Rural Development Agency, despite some reservations with its offer.
“In the end it wasn’t worth arguing about.”
The first half of the £23,000 payment should arrive this August, with the balance due in January 2007.
“The August cheque will be useful but I’m not holding my breath,” he says.