For Raymond Copland of AQF Contracting near Dumfries, the decision to buy a Pottinger self-loading forage wagon was made one night when having a beer with his colleague and business partner Craig McIntyre.
“We had heard that farmers were becoming increasingly fed up with the poor quality of silage caused by it not being loaded into the clamp properly,” he says. “We deduced that contractors with high-output self-propelled forage harvesters just did not have the resources or the time to load and consolidate a clamp properly.”
A couple of beers later and the decision was made. By the middle of the following week there were two Pottinger Torro 5100L forage wagons standing in the yard. That was last year and, despite a customer base of zero, the forage wagons managed to clock up 1500 acres in their first season. This year he has 6000 acres to harvest.
“Farmers have long memories and the disasters of the first attempts to market forage wagons that could not handle UK conditions still lives with them,” says Mr Copland. “But they are changing their minds now.”
The Torro 5100L has a capacity of 51cu m and a 1.85m wide pick-up. The crop enters the unit and is then passed to a rotor there is a short area between which allows stones to fall back on to the ground. The rotor then pushes the crop through a bank of 39 knives, which reduces grass length to a theoretical 35mm.
“I sharpen the blades every day with a small grinder blunt blades don’t chop well and the extra power required is quite noticeable,” he says. “I have two sets, an older set which are used when working in new lays or stony ground and another when working in ‘safer’ established crops. Blades cost £13.50 each, so they are worth taking care of.”
The crop then bubbles up into the front of the trailer body until it hits a pressure switch placed near the wagon top, which then activates the chain-and-slat floor to move the grass towards the rear of the trailer. The slats are also used to empty the trailer at the clamp.
“The grass is quite compacted in the trailer – more so than a trailer filled with grass from a self-propelled forage harvester,” he explains. “I reckon to get 10t on board before I need to empty.”
It’s the trip back to the clamp which is often considered to be the downside of the job, but Mr Copland believes it can still give respectable daily outputs.
“On a 1.5-mile round journey, we can clear about 130 acres a day with two wagons,” he says. “That is with a labour force of three – two on the wagons and one on the clamp – and a fuel bill which is probably less than half that of a self-propelled gang.”
Distance from clamp to field is an important consideration, though. He believes that a round trip of more than nine miles is bordering on being unviable, even with three wagons on the move.
At the clamp there is ample time to stack, spread and consolidate the silage properly. Should the grass start to build up, a second tractor can be brought in to consolidate the grass as it is loaded.
“It’s a system that works well for me as a contractor and also for the customer who ends up with good, well-made silage, which is the object of the exercise,” insists Mr Copland. “With the price of feed now so expensive, farmers are looking get the most they can from silage.
“I charge £80/hour to run a forage wagon, which, with an 180hp Claas tractor on the front, leaves a sensible margin in the job. The running costs are pretty minimal, the knives are probably the most expensive item.”
He also reckons the silage is made better. There is less effluent pouring out of the clamp because the grass has not been bruised and battered by fast-moving chopping units and he claims the cows milk better on it.