Farmers are always reluctant to install drainage through a growing crop, and understandably so! Our machinery must move cross the ground damaging, sometimes killing the young plants Clearly it is better to wait until after harvest to install, however this does cause problems. For one we can’t be everywhere at once and then twiddle our thumbs for nine months of the year. Ideally everyone would like the drainage machine to enter the field straight after the combine exits but that’s not how the real world works. Sometimes a client will leave a field fallow known that the plan is to drain it, others will accept the crop lose, those who plan ahead book up the prize spots in our schedule.
This year has been different and the problem muted. A number of clients have looked at their fields and decided that whatever crop is growing is not worth saving. We are draining though the crop in a number of fields, where it is difficult to see what is growing. Whilst this is evidently bad news, the very thin silver lining is that the decision to drain is made easier. Not only is there little crop to damage but if no crop is growing you can hardy receive a clearer signal that drainage is required.
In one of my last posts I wondered if estimates would turn into orders. Pleasingly, so far at least, the answer is yes.
We’re busy, no doubt about it. The jobs which we were unable to start last year are being installed as I write, and a new flood of orders is backing up behind them. I would say that our order book is at least twice what it was last year. The problem we have now is fitting it all in! for the next two months our schedule is full to the rim with urgent jobs which needed to be done and dusted a week ago, then perhaps we can start thinking about the other rush jobs!
I’m not complaining, it’s a good thing to be busy, and no doubt everyone here at Farm Services will be pleased with the opportunity to work Saturdays and earn some overtime, but I’m getting behind. Admin has been forgotten about and new estimates are taking far too long to leave the office, (sorry if your waiting) but there is not a great deal I can do about the delays, we only have so many drainage machines and there’s only one of me! Still this is a good problem, just need to find some more hours in the day....
Ever since I started writing this blog it seems as if I’m drawn to talking about the weather. Drainage contractors have a complicated relationship with the weather, we need it to rain or else no one needs our services, but when it rains the ground is often too wet for us to work. It is friend and foe. In addition, it affects our customers. Lots of rain increases demand for drainage, but too much rain suppresses yields and results in our customers not having the money for infrastructure investment like drainage.
Since writing the blog we have suffered from a winter drought and summer flood, and it is interesting to see how this impact on our orders and enquiries. During dry times, the phone rings less often but I would suggest that a higher percentage of enquires result in orders. The reverse is true when it is wet, the phone rings off the hook, but many of the estimates that we send out do not result in actual jobs. Sometimes an estimate will be accepted a year or two after it was first produced.
All that means we are busy at the moment, visiting clients and sending out estimates. In fact I’m behind and need to catch up, I try not to let an estimate stay on my desk for longer than a week, but one or two have slipped over that deadline. We have certainly had more enquiries than last year and our order book is definitely far healthier, however we’re having to work hard for it!
We have been moving water, both to and from crops for almost as longer as we have been farming; from ancient civilisations such as the Romans, through to Cromwell and his efforts to drain the fens. However it was the Thomas Scragg invention of a method which allowed clay drainage titles to be mass produced cheaply which preceded an enormous increase in the number of acres drained. From around 1850 we have been draining land at an industrial scale. Records show that from 1850 to 1870 farmers borrowed 12 million pounds, an enormous sum at the time, to invest in drainage. It must have been very difficult to travel across the country during this time and not see teams of people digging trenches and ditches by hand.
lull in drainage installation occurred at the turn of the century as British agriculture suffered a depression, however after the Second World War drainage was back in favour. War time experiences shaped British policy and there was a drive to become more self-sufficient. Grants were given for land drainage with the goal of increasing home grown production. Yields and the amount of land drained rose sharply. New drainage machines and technology such as plastic pipe meant that by the seventies and early eighties over one hundred thousand hectares were drained each year.
Governmental thinking had changed by the mid eighties, and subsidies across many industries were withdrawn. Drainage grants proved to be a very easy target. Over production had created ‘food mountains’ and media pressure for change increased. In addition food security was not the political issue it was before and the idea of importing cheaper food was attractive rather than forbidding. With the removal of grants the amount of land being drained dropped like a stone, as the graph below shows.
Although the data stopped in 1992 I’m sure that if the graph was continued up until 2013 the number of hectares drained would remain around the same level as in the early nineteen nineties. This is a historical low. For the last thirty years, farmers have stopped doing something which their fathers and grandfathers did regularly. Now it might be fair to say that with the work completed in the seventies and eighties that many farms cured most of their wet spots, but even the ‘newest’ drains are now thirty years old. Many schemes installed many years ago are, after many years of good service, slowly failing.
This year’s heavy rainfall has exposed numerous drainage problems, but to blame the weather is only half the story. We have been relying on old drainage infrastructure and I’m afraid it is time for many to consider re-draining fields.
I have talked about the American machinery manufacturers in the last couple of blog entries and I feel duty bound to mention our own European manufacturers, who have also helped greatly in my Nuffield Travels.
Inter-drain are, by volume, the largest drainage machine manufacturers in the world, they produce every type of machine from their modern and very well planned factory based in Tiel in the Netherlands. Of all the manufacturers I visited I have to say that inter-drain’s seemed to be the most organised and certainly the cleanest! Some other manufacturers might be more willing to custom build machinery to the individual quirks of contractors but it is clear that Inter-drain offer a good machine at a competitive price.
Steenbergen Holland drain another Dutch Manufacturer who are based in Numansdrop which is just a little south from Rotterdam. Not too long ago Steenbergan’s founder retired and a new team took over, it seems like the company has been modernised whilst still respecting its history. I had not seen a Steenbergen until I travelled to the Netherlands and I have to say they look like solid well built machines designed to last forever! Like inter-drain most of the machines they produce are exported around the world. Unfortunately my photography skills are lacking and I don’t have a non blurred picture to show you, however there are plenty on line and on their web site (the link is below)
I must not forget to mention Britain’s own manufacturer, Mastenbroek. We operate four of their machines and have nothing but praise from them, I have posted a couple of pictures but the blog is full of many more.
The other major machinery manufacturer in North America is Wolfe Heavy Equipment.
Wolfe are based in Strathroy, Ontario and although the company has been around for many a year, it has recently been bought by new owners. Wolfe produces mainly drainage ploughs, although they do produce some wheel trenchers. Their machines are tough, solid, no frills, dependable engineering and were liked by many of the Canadian contractors I met.
Wolfe has just moved into a new factory. The plant was very large and Wolfe have grand plans for it. At the moment they make about two machines each month, but hope to increase production. They reported, along with all of the North American manufacturers very strong demand and if you want a Wolfe be prepared to wait a while.
I should thank Keith for taking the time to show me around and mention Wolfe’s US dealer, Schlatter’s, based in Indiana, who were also good enough to give up their time and answer my questions.
More on Machinery!
I had never seen a wheel trencher before my trip to the states. In the UK , we use chain trenchers or trenchless ploughs, I can’t be sure, but I very much doubt if there is any other type of machine in working order in the country. (Some of the earliest drainage machines in this country were wheel machines but by now then will over extremely old) In the States there is a greater requirement for larger sized mains, it makes sense as everything is bigger over the pond, and therefore wheel machines are used. As I understand wheel trenchers are more efficient than chains when excavating wide trenches. Seeing the amount of soil a wheel trencher can move is very impressive, however the disadvantage is the lack of flexibility. Our chain trenchers can dig a trencher from around 80mm to about 400mm, the range of a wheel is limited by the size of the wheel. Whilst this is not a problem in America, in the UK the width of the trench is very important, the wider the trench, the more gravel needed to back fill it and the more it costs.
Port also produce chain trenchers on wheels
Also something different to the UK, here is a trencher on wheels rather than on tracks. It works well in the states and means the machines can be faster and drive on the road, but on our clay soils I would give it about five minutes before it stuck into the mud!
Port Industries produce these hydramaxx machines, from their workshop in Palmyra, Missouri. Port have a lot of tricks up their sleeve they build chain trenchers, wheel trenchers and ploughs, either on tracks or on wheels. The sizes of machines tend to range from big to very big and they also act as distributors for Mastenbroek in North America. Once again I am happy to report that I received a warm welcome from Port Industries, Kevin Shrimp was generous enough to give the grand tour of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa! I thank him for taking the time to show me around. The picture below is of me and Kevin!
Sorry for the lack of blog entries of late, somewhere between Mudhound HQ and the Farmers Weekly we have had some technical problems. Thankfully normal service has been restored.
The Blog’s been a little light on pictures of late, so I thought a couple of blogs about North American machinery manufacturers would wrong that right! First up RWF Bron.
You would expect the drainage machines used in North America to be as big and over sized, well some stereotypes ring true. The drainage machines in Canada and the States are monsters. The photo below shows a RWF Bron 450; it weighs 44 tonnes, for comparison our largest machine weighs 28 tonnes. It’s over three metres wide, and is tall as a house, okay that last bit was a slight exaggeration, but it is very tall, honest. If that machine was in the UK it would have to be escorted by the police on the road and it would be unable to fit through a standard field gate. In other words, it would be utterly impractical! In the wide open spaces of the mid-west it’s a different matter.
The Brons are impressive machines and when you spend time looking at them you can see that someone has spent a lot of time thinking about the design, from sloping the bonnet to improve sight lines (and the appearance) to eliminating areas to which mud can stick and start to build up.
Bron machines are certainly a popular choice in both Canada and the US, with the second hand market seemingly as strong as new builds.
You can see some more pictures on their web site, I got a great welcome from Bron, they went out of their way to help me in my travels so I should take this opportunity to say thank you to Mark, Jason, Rob, Ron and everyone at Woodstock, Ontario.
Today is our last day of work in 2012!!!
This year, as always, the company will shut down for two weeks over Christmas and after seeing the weather forecast for the next week, I doubt if we would have been able to do much if we had been at work!
2012 has been a year dominated by unusual weather, bone dry at the start, flooded by the end. Land drainage contractors have no choice but to be at the mercy of the weather, but this year it seems given more pronounced. Personally this year has been hectic, but also very interesting; my Nuffield travels being the cause of both factors. Hopefully 2013 the weather will be kinder and my Nuffield adventure will continue.
All that is left to do is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
It’s all about yield.
There are many advantages and reasons to drain, but really the crux of any motivation will always focus on yield. The aim of any farmer is to produce as much as possible with as little input as possible, and in a manner which allows it to repeat year after year. Easier said than done!
Drainage increases yield, that’s why farmers have drained their land for thousands of years. The question is how much will draining increase yield by, well that’s not an easy question to answer. It depends upon soil type, rain fall, when the rain fell, temperature, what drainage was all ready installed by previous generations, if the soil is compacted, if the soils were worked when wet, what type of crop was planted, the list goes on and on.
The other problem is that extensive field trails to find an answer to the question would be extremely expensive and drainage is a relatively small industry, hence unable to pay for such research. I find it incredibly annoying that I cannot give a straight answer, however there is some statistical evidence which can help.
The field drainage Experimental unit ran a field trail on Denchworth soils at Drayton, from 1970 to 1974 looking solely at the yield benefits of drainage. They found that a comprehensive drainage scheme improved winter wheat yield by an average of 22.5%.
The results from Canada are also very interesting. From 1979 to 1999 the crop insurance commission of Ontario included a question on their forms asking if the field to be insured was drained. The resulting data received regarding yield has been examined to reveal a 38% yield increase in winter wheat grown on drained land rather than un-drained land.
There are, of course a couple of caveats, to this data, one field trail is forty years old, the other is in a very different climate to our own. However it is undoubtively the case that drainage significantly improves yields, the only question is by how much.
I thought I would type out a few words about the RASE soils and water conference and I guess the first thing to say is to congratulate the RASE on put on such a good show. At the time when the conference was being planned, the entire country seemed to be short of water and the word on every ones lips was drought, by the time the show actually happened the world had turned on its axis and concern focused on flooding! I can’t think of a better demonstration of how we are all slaves to the weather.
The key note speech by Prof. Tim Benton was full of facts and points to debate. One of his main themes was that extreme weather is happening more often and that we need to adjust accordingly. Interestingly he declared that the amount of rainfall from last November to this November was almost exactly the yearly average, it is when the water fell, the actually weather if you will, which is so unusual this year.
I was particularly impressed with the Soil Biota session by Prof. Karl Ritz and fellow Nuffield Scholar Jo Franklin. The message was that the soil is alive and full of bio-diversity. As I know all too well care of soils is often over looked, this session reminded me that it is often mis-understood as well. How many people would describe soil as alive? How many people would spend time, money and effort making sure that the soil is fed? However these things can effect yield!
I thought that my own small part went well, I could have delivered my talk a little smoother, but overall it went well, people asked questions and seemed interested – I did not see any fall asleep! I hope to expand on some of the subjects I mentioned in this blog shortly.
Drainage is never going to be sexy. I suspect that the only jobs in agriculture which are less sexy than drainage are the ones that involve what comes out the back end of live stock. There is some heavy, unusual machinery to raise the pause of metal-heads but wading through mud, removing excess water, is a difficult sell on the excitement front. Especially when after all the hard work is done, everything is buried and you can’t see what it is you have done! Or for that matter what it is that you have paid for!
People who have read this blog before will understand that whilst I will retire gracefully from the scene when talking about which aspect of farming is the sexiest, I will leap forward if the conversation swings towards importance. Whilst I understand the importance of the job, I tend not to shout from the roof tops and demonstrate that most over used of words (especially in an episode of Master Chef) passion. Having spent a great deal of time travelling and meeting all and sundry in the drainage world, I have, time and time again met extremely knowledgeable people doing what I’m convinced is a vital job, yet passion is not a word to describe the vast majority of them. Drainage people tend to be the quiet, confident types who just get on with the job, in many ways like the drains they install.
There is a lot to say about people who just get on with the job in hand, but there are problems too. The world is full of shouting voices and quiet, steady ones often get lost. If the people promoting drainage are quiet, then the drains themselves, buried out of sight, are even quieter. I certainly don’t think that as an industry we should start screaming and shouting, but drainage seems to have slipped out of the minds of many farmers, and drainage contractors must recognise that our quietness has allowed this to happen. Don’t expect me to get too carried away but I’m going to work as hard as I can to try to get drainage back into people thoughts, it is too important to forget.
A couple of subjects have fallen victim to my absence and have not been mentioned on the Mudhound for quite a while.
The first one is the Farmers Weekly Contractor of the year award, sadly we did not win, but such is the way sometimes and I wish to express my congratulations to the victorious Watson Brothers (at least Warwickshire won!). Entering the awards was something different and has resulted in some good publicity and plenty of pats on the back. Alas, as I was in America, I missed out on the big awards night, however I’m reassured that my father had a great time, and did his best to drink too much in celebration!
The other subject I should try to draw people attention to is the RASE’s soil and water conference which is to be at Stoneleigh on the 13th of this month. I have been asked to present a workshop session on land drainage and I’m very pleased to be involved with that sounds like a very useful, and overdue event. Reading through the line up of speakers and the subject covered I’m really looking forward to attending. I already have a pretty good idea what I want to cover and I’m putting together a presentation, probably as you read this. I hope that my recent research and the time which I have been able to devote to think about the industry and its future (which, perhaps unsurprisingly I feel is very rosy) will be of interest to a wider audience. I guess we will see!
The link below is to the events website
I’m back in the country and the plan is to stay for a while, meaning the long neglected mudhound can once again be an active blog, instead of one of those jobs I really should be doing, but can’t find the time to do! As mentioned before I expected to be able to blog during my travels, but it did not work out that way. The days were taken up in the field and I had many dinner offers to fill in the nights, quite often I had quite a bit of driving to be done in the evenings. In fact it is the scale and the time required to travel through the Mid-west of America which is going to be one of my strongest memories of my journey. I just managed to put an extra three thousand miles on the clock before handing back my hire car, bear in mind that Land’s End to John O’ Groats is only six hundred miles as the crow flies! And that is only the miles that I drove, often I would be the passenger during the day!
I visited Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and North Dakota, of the most part I saw little change in elevation and only two crops growing: Corn (Maize) and Soya Beans. As with Canada, Farm and field sizes were greatly increased in comparison to the UK. Nearly all the people I spoke to were happy with the current state of agriculture, reporting healthy prices and confidence in the future. Most interestingly, from a personal point of view, was the demand for drainage. Contractors in the States seem to be very busy, often with large backlogs and waiting lists. Considering the high number of contractors and that the average job is large, in comparison to the UK, this demand is impressive. Time after time people mentioned farmers buying their own machinery and doing the job themselves, frustrated by waiting times.
My plan over the next couple of week is to share some ideas and experiences (and photos)from my travels....
Yes I know, I said I would blog when in Canada, and the long silence on the Mudhound proves that sentence to be hollow. Sorry is all I can say, I will blame the lack of posts on two things: one the generosity of many of the people I met meant that most evenings were busy as well as the days, and after driving the huge distances to make those appointments I tended to be knackered and to be frank, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write a blog entry. It’s a bit slack, sorry.
I have to say that my trip to Canada, with a small detour into the States was very successful. My general impress of agricultural and of the drainage industry over there is the sheer scale of the operations. Many people warn/mentioned the difference in scale but until you see it with your own eyes it is very hard to appreciate. Standing in a two hundred acre field, all of which is to be drained with the laterals at 30 foot intervals (it’s all feet and inches over there), the differences quicky become apparent. We installed laterals which are 60mm in diameter, in most parts of North America the lateral sizes are 4”(100mm) in diameter, which is what we use for our mains. Our largest machine is 28 tonnes the standard machine over the pond is 34 tonnes, I’m sure you are starting to get the impression.
With lots of large job and long runs on those jobs the amount of pipe Canadian contractors put in the ground each day is very impressive, like the Dutch they do not use a permeable fill back which speeds up the process too. The demand for drainage is very strong and competition is very health between contractors. Interestingly the government of Ontario regulates the industry, with all contractors, machines and operators having to be licensed.
I have a number of topics to talk about and photos to post which I hope to do over the next couple of weeks, I’m off again, this time to the US, at the end of the month, so as you might imagine, I’m a tad on the busy side at the moment!
I have hardly been back, before I’m off again. The mountain of work which I returned to is now a foot hill but still there is an awful lot to do before I fly off to Canada to tour around Ontario, mainly, visiting more drainage folks. I fly to Toronto then head west through what looks like excellent farming land to the American border passing Guelph, Kitchener and a place called London, not the one hosting the games! I’m hoping to cross the border and spend the last two in Ohio, before driving a hell of a long way back to Toronto.
It seems like I have not finished blogging or indeed thinking about my Dutch adventure before I’m flying over the Atlantic and visiting another drainage hot spot. Once again I only know a little about the soils and the ways of draining them in Ontario, I’m pretty sure that I will come back with my eyes opened. Like the Dutch, the Canadians rarely use permeable fill, their reasons for this will be high on my list of questions. I believe that most of the drainage is installed by single leg trenchless machines, and that most of these machines are not made in Europe, but have sturdy, North American names like RWF Bron and Wolfe.
If I get the chance I will post a blog or two whilst I’m away, but that depends upon whether I have any spare time and how confident I feel about my often wayward spelling! All this travelling, there’s no doubt about it I’m one lucky bloke.
Just a quick post showing some of the snaps I took whilst in the Netherlands
Here is a brand new Interdrain 2030 straight from the factory floor. This one is heading to Germany.
I have mentioned once or twice about how flat it is in The Netherlands.
I more familiar Mastenbroek trecnher working in light/sandy soils.
A bit delay this blog, sorry, better late than never I guess
My tour around the Netherlands has hit new heights! 13 metres above sea level to be precise. I have now travelled inland, quite a distance, and the terrain has changed only relatively subtly. I was surprised at the consistency of the flatness when in the west of Holland, but I was near the coast and Holland is famous for dikes and being below sea level, and I have visited before briefly so I knew what to expect. However I did expect the land to change as I moved towards Germany and any changes have been very difficult to see, from five metres below sea level to 13 above over 120 kilometres is very difficult to see.
My trip continues to provoke thoughts. I visited Wageningen University to talk to Dr. Henk Ritzema, he is an assistant professor in drainage and had some interesting thoughts on a couple of topics which seem to be developing into a focus of my studies, namely the use of permeable fill and controlled drainage. Both of these topics I will blog about it greater depth I’m sure, they both stand out for obvious reasons: the considerable cost of using backfill in the case of permeable fill and new developments in design with controlled drainage. It seems as if most of the new thinking and field trials regarding controlled drainage are taking place in the States, I’m planning to be there later in the summer, so that we be a topic for then.
In the UK virtually all contractors operate Mastenbroek Drainage Machines, and a part from a couple of old dinosaurs I had never seen another type of drainage machine working. Over here many Dutch contractors also operate Mastenbroek Machines, but unlike the UK, two other manufacturers share the market; InterDrain and Steenbergen Holland Drain. Mastenbroek produce fine machines, and nobody I have spoken to has said a word against them, but it was interesting to see a slightly different type of machine, with different features.
I have spoken to a few people who have stumbled across my blogs and were surprised regarding my ignorance of Dutch drainage design and techniques. Well I have to say I was not in the least bit surprised, here in the UK drainage contractors tend to have their heads down working hard, there’s very little chance to stand back and look at the whole. I strongly suspect that all contractors are in the same position. Travelling has already widened my knowledge and created some questions to think about, I guess that is exactly what Nuffield would want to hear and what the scholarships are designed to do. I’m sure that this process will continue throughout the year and makes the sacrifices Nuffield demands worthwhile. I should also say that the Dutch contractors I met were equally puzzled over the designs we use to drain land, the knowledge sharing was mutual and, I hope, mutually beneficial.
As an aside I saw a bloke in clogs the other day, all stereotypes ticked.
This is a Mudhound first, an international blog entry. I’m just
outside Rotterdam, connected to my hotel’s (free) Wi-Fi. I can access my
e-mail, catch up on some work, and yes, type some thoughts for the blog. It’s
all very clever and easy to use. This is my first Nuffield trip and it has been
I have been in the Netherlands for a week now and I have
already met numerous contractors and drainage folk. I flew into Amsterdam and
drove north to a town called Den Helder, and from there I have slowly worked my
way southward, staying close to the coast, until the border with Belgium. Next
week I head in land.
The Dutch contractors I have met do the same job with the same
goal and use much of the same equipment as I do, but they go about it in a completely
different way. The light soils, (in some places the word soils should, perhaps,
be replaced with sand!) meaning that a permeable back fill, is not necessary.
This makes drains quicker and easier to install. The Dutch are able to put in
many more meters in a day and can, therefore install drainage at a cheaper
Drainage and water control is clearly high up on the consciousness
of the Dutch, I guess that’s what happens when you live below sea level and the
incoming sea was, and to a lesser extent still is, a serious threat. It seems
that all farmers are keen to drain land and re-drain land regularly and as a
result there are about the same number of land drainage companies in the
Netherlands as there are in the UK, which bearing in mind the difference in
land area means that almost every town has a contractor.
My trip continues next week I’m meeting machine
manufacturers and visiting Wageningen University. Photos to follow...
So the judges have been and gone. Presumably they will now huddle together and deliberate. We will not find out how we have done until the big awards night on the 4th of October. Frustratingly it is very likely that I will be in America as part of my Nuffield travels on that date, meaning me and Mrs. Mudhound (Whose cake, by the way, a Victoria Sponge tasted fantastic and went down a treat with the judges) will miss out on a glamorous night in London, my Father will get the honour instead.
(In a half joking begrudging moan style, typical! I do all the work and he’s the one who gets the night out!)
Overall I think the visit went well, despite the best effort of the weather. I’m a strong believer that you can never truly tell if an interview will be successful or not, it depends upon so many factors that you have no control of over, one of the main ones being the performance of the other candidates. However it is possible to recognise when something has gone belly up, and I don’t think that was the case with the judges. Eight of us cramped into our meeting room and to be the fair the grilling was friendly and offered us plenty of chances to talk about what we think we do well. After a quick tour of our yard we managed to go to a muddy site and see a drainage machine laying land drainage pipe, not much of it, but some all the same. Considering the weather over the last couple of days, or should that be weeks, I was very pleased that it was possible at all.
Entering the competition has been an interesting experience, as mentioned self promotion is not one of our strengths however I think it’s important to let people know who we are and what we do. The drainage industry in general seems to be slow to promote its self and the considerable benefits well drained lands bring to Farming. It’s up to us to spread the word and I hope that getting nominated of Farmers Weekly Contractor of the Year Award will be part of that process.
All we can do now is sit back and wait of the judge’s verdict, October is quite far, we’re going to be crossing our fingers for a long time!
PS as I’m in the Netherlands for the next two weeks this will be the last blog of a while....
My Nuffield plans are starting to come together and I’m off travelling next week, its a busy time at the moment. Finding out where to go and who to meet over the course of at least eight weeks is a surprisingly big job! You only get one chance and I am keen to make sure I meet the most interesting and thought provoking people I can. One thing I will say, I can’t imagine how difficult a task it was before e-mail and the internet. Also I now realise that I’m quite lucky in regards to timing.
I’m keen to see contractors in action putting pipe in the ground, so I have arranged to visit during the summer/autumn, which is also our busiest time. Being away at that time is almost certain to cause a few headaches, but nothing which is worthwhile is easy to do. Planning to travel then has given me a couple of months to plan and work out exactly what I want to see, which was been very helpful. It has also allowed me to visit quite a few people in the UK. Not only have these meetings helped to formulate my ideas but also many of the people I have spoken to have been able to recommend people to visit, doubly useful! As things stand I will be in The Netherlands in July, Canada in August and The United States in late September, early October. I’m very pleased with what I have lined up so far and I still have a couple more weeks to fine tune.
The Netherlands trip starts on the 9th July and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully I will get the chance to blog whilst I’m away but if not I will of course write a review and post it. I’m all set to criss-cross very flat Dutch countryside visiting fellow contractors, machinery manufacturers and academics.
I did previously mention that our work load was not fitting around the contractor of the year judges’ visit to Farm Services HQ very well. Now another, predictable, spanner has been thrown into the works, rain. Having just looked at the weather forecast it’s pretty grim for the whole week, light rain or heavy rain, take your pick. The forecast for tomorrow is particularly bad, if the forecast is right, and I know it’s a big if, it seems likely that virtually all of our jobs will be stopped!
I suppose the silver lining is that the rain nullifies the problem of which site to take the judges to, but I would be disappointed not to show them a working drainage machine. The whole idea is for the judges to see us working and I’m sure a trip out to one of our sites would make a good impression. Even if the ground conditions do allow us to work, I’m far from convinced that asking the judges to stand in the rain will be a winning tactic. I do have some video of Machines working, but as I filmed it with a wobbly hand-held camera, it’s not what you might call Oscar worthy.
Not long now until the Farmers Weekly contractor of the year judges are due to turn up here at Farm Services HQ. There are going to be four judges and I’m not really sure what to expect, I know the judges names and a little information on last year’s winner, but not a lot else. I have been told that the format is to sit down for a couple of hours whilst they grill us on what we do, then to go on a tour so then can see what we do!
Annoying and despite my best efforts, at the moment I do not have a contract near our base to take them to. I have a few options, but as things stand we are due to be working on a large job in Yorkshire, another the other side of Birmingham and just some bits and pieces closer to home. If I suggested a quick trip up the M1 for an hour and a half I don’t think we would hear our name following the words and ‘the winner is’ on the 4th of October. I’m trying to bring forward another contract and re-arrange the program. The problem is that it’s just not a very good time to see agricultural drainage being installed, there is very little point destroying the crop to install drainage when it will be cut in a month or so. It is also just past the Sportsfield season for winter sports such as football and rugby who tend to wish for drainage to be installed straight after the last game of the season. At the moment we have been tackling a couple of water supply jobs, the judges might have to see water pipe being installed rather than land drain.
I had a long list of tidying up and little things to put right before the judges turned up, very little of which has been done, nether the less I hope to tidying the office and at least we will have a new door mat for the judges to wipe their feet on as their enter the building!
I’m certainly trying to ‘put on a good show’ I even have signed up Mrs Mudhound, my long suffering wife to bake some cakes, surly the way to a judges heart is thorough their stomach?
Although I suspect that for some reading this blog is more than enough, I thought I had better post that Nuffield have asked me (and all this year’s scholars) to write a small blog on their website about my travels. So if you’re a really glutton for punishment the link is below....
Thinking about it, I have not sold that link very well, you may not fancy reading any more from me, but perhaps the other Nuffield folk will interest you!
I guess we should be spraying the champagne here at Farm Services, we have been lucky enough to make the short list of the Farmers Weekly Contractor of the Year Award. Cue loud cheers and metaphorical fireworks.
Along with two others we shall be visited by the judges and one of us will be standing up receive the plaudits at the awards dinner in posh Park Lane on the 4th of October.
To be honest it’s all rather exciting and a step into the unknown. It also gives me a chance to blog about the whole experience, which might be of interest to anyone thinking about entering next year.
We almost did not enter, it was a relatively late decision to fill in the application form and a struggle to make the deadline (which was, to my annoyance if the truth be told, then extended). The questions were quite open ended, which allowed answers to be tailored in the direction we wanted. We had a reasonable amount of information already typed up, which had been originally prepared for other things such as pre qualification questionnaires which all large companies ask you to complete. However to don’t want to be flippant or suggest that we did not spend much time on the application form, there’s no point in doing something unless it’s done properly. We tried to make the application form look professional and smart, and sent a DVD with a very short and a little bit wobbly video of one of our machines in action. Having said that we entered in hope rather than expectation so when we got the phone call a few days ago explaining that we had been nominated, we were delighted.
The judges will visit Farm Services HQ on the afternoon of the 4th July, and no doubt they will have a slack of probing questions, but also it will be an opportunity to tell them about us. Over the next couple of days we will sit down and try to work out what to show them and where to take them!
As I said, it’s all rather exciting.
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