THIS TIME last year, West Country farmers were celebrating an early finish to harvest duties, with cereals and forage crops safely tucked away under cover.

“Things weren’t horrific this season, just slightly more what we’re used to,” says Graham Couch.

“The silage team got off to a flying start in early May. Into its second harvest, the Jaguar forager was hungry for work, performing well above our original expectations.”

A road traffic accident in mid-July caused a slight setback for the silage gang.

As one of the older New Holland tractors followed the grass-rake down the road, brake failure led to the rake ending up concertinaed between two tractors with a buckled chassis.

When quoted more than £5000 for repairs – over half the cost of a new implement – Mr Couch decided it was time for a change.

“As I could buy a new, bigger rake for £9000, I decided to take the opportunity to upsize.”

A couple of weeks later, a new twin-rotor Claas Liner arrived to complete the season.

The grass harvest was wrapped up by the end of August, although a spell of poor weather meant that some of Mr Couch’s customers didn’t get the third-cut silage finished.

“Nothing went to waste – we turned sheep onto the uncut fields and made the best of a bad job,” he says.

The middle of August saw a new tractor join the Couch fleet. A New Holland TS115A was bought to replace an ageing Case Maxxum, which had given seven years’ solid service.

“So far, the TS-A has performed pretty well, though it’s not been doing much heavy work since we’ve had it,” says Mr Couch.

“There were a few niggles with its registration, though.” The tractor arrived on the farm with an 04 plate, a couple of weeks before the changeover to a 54 registration.

As Mr Couch was under the impression he was buying a brand new machine, his discontent was understandable.

A swift visit to the dealer’s yard brought about the necessary financial adjustments to make the deal a little more palatable.

Maize harvest started in late September and went on without too many difficulties. However, there are changes afoot among his customers – with approximately 160ha (400 acres) of maize harvested this year, Mr Couch sees the number of farmers decreasing while the acreage remains the same.

“There are fewer farmers than there were 50 years ago when my dad started the contracting business,” says Mr Couch.

“Dealing with larger farmers is a bonus in that we experience greater levels of professionalism and there is less travelling between jobs.

“The downside is that some of the larger operations want to pay contracting bills in instalments and that’s not the way we are used to working.”

A new recruit added to the team earlier in the year raised a few wry smiles, says Mr Couch.

“For the first time we have a woman driving for us and she keeps the chaps on their toes, especially when she can do as good a job on the hedge cutter – if not better.”