Spring ploughing has only just finished but Robert Garner is already scouring the classifieds to see how much a tracklayer for the autumn would cost.

“Next harvest we’ll have about 500 acres and you could argue that we should really stick with what we’ve got.

But we’re doing other things now, I’ll probably spend 2-3 hours with the turkeys every day,” says Robert.

“The cost benefit I can see is that I’ll be able to do things quicker and pull bigger tackle.

We could double our work rate but be a bit more choosy about when we go.”

However, if he decides to go ahead, Robert isn’t planning to go mad and blow the farm’s single farm payment on a shiny new behemoth.

He’s set an upper limit of £35,000 for a used crawler and expects to pay another £5000 to upgrade his five-furrow plough to a newer eight-furrow model.

He will also have £25,000 from some of the farm’s existing equipment, including a New Holland TM165, to set against the purchase.

“It won’t be a huge investment and I hope it will pay for itself within three years.

We’re trying to speed things up as cheaply as we can.”

Robert did look at following the increasingly popular min-till route, but decided against it.

“New is just too expensive for our acreage and a lot of the second-hand pieces of kit will have been worked really hard on heavy land.”

That is one of the reasons he plans to take his time choosing the right crawler if he takes the plunge.

“The wrong decision could prove costly.”

Robert is also keeping a close eye on the grain market and has already sold 200t out of a potential harvest of 650t of feed wheat for November delivery.

A 100t batch went for £73.50/t delivered with the remainder going for £74.30 a few weeks later.

His plan is to sell everything pre-Christmas to cope with the change in cash flow following the introduction of the single farm payment.

“I’m not sure where this wheat market is going.

There is so much talk in the trade about frost kill in the Ukraine and Russia that maybe this will be the year prices go up.”

To avoid losing out if this happens, Robert is considering taking out an option on some of his grain.

His merchant is offering a May 2007 option of £79.25 at a cost of £3.45.

With May futures trading at about 3 less than this, it allows him to take advantage of any sudden price hikes while protecting against future falls.

“It’s all about risk management – the market is very volatile.

Taking out an option might cost £8-9/acre but you wouldn’t hesitate to spend that spraying your crop if it was affected by septoria/rust.”

Robert’s father John, who looks after the sheep side of the business, is in better spirits than when Farmers Weekly last visited at the end of December.

After a very difficult start, the lambing of his pedigree flock of Suffolks improved, even though a yield of 45 lambs from 47 ewes was extremely disappointing.

“They’ve all got good back ends and good conformation.”

Thankfully, his commercial flock is proving easier to lamb after starting just two days ahead of schedule on 13 January.

Twin-lamb disease has sometimes proved a problem in the past, but this year John has got on top of it with a high-concentrate glucose supplement and a 100ml injection of glucose for those specifically affected.

“Lambing has been extremely good. So far we’ve had 340 live lambs and only 28 dead.”

Six deaths were down to twin lamb disease, another five “committed suicide” in water pails, seven got laid on in their pens and the balance suffered from hypothermia, says John.

“I’m not really sure how I could improve on that.”

To further reduce mortality from twin-lamb disease, John’s vet has suggested bringing in the flock three weeks before lambing instead of one.

“In theory that sounds OK but in practice it would be a lot of extra work for me.”

andrew.shirley@rbi.co.uk