In the latest in our long-running series that charts the highs and lows of the countries’ machinery fleets, we visit Romney Marsh-based farmer Alan Clifton-Holt. He tells us about his favourite bits of kit, those he could do without and which machines are on his wishlist.

John Deere tractor and New Holland combine

John Deere tractor and New Holland combine

How loyal are you to individual brands?

For the past 20 years we have almost exclusively had John Deere tractors, but four years ago we got our first Fendt, as it was better for road work. Before the switch to John Deere we were running 5000- and 6000-series Fords.

AA Clifton, Burmarsh, Romney Marsh, Kent

  • Farmed area 1,200ha
  • Cropping Wheat, oilseed rape, barley, peas and some grass leys for silage
  • Other Alpaca herd, solar park, wind turbines, retail village, maize maze, commercial building lets

Favourite dealer?

We used to get all our John Deeres through Bell Agricultural and their service was always fantastic. However, they lost the Deere franchise last year to Burden Brothers and they have now started selling Deutz-Fahr machines. Our Fendt dealer, RW Crawford, have also looked after us really well.

See also: What’s in Your Shed? visits a Hampshire AD contractor

Favourite piece of kit?

The New Holland CR9090 has to be my favourite. On paper it’s a slightly bigger machine than we need, but because the marsh has its own unpredictable microclimate, it pays to have a bit of extra capacity.

Flat out it will do 100t/hour, which is a massive step up from the New Holland CR980 we had before. The Bateman RB35 comes a very close second to the combine. It’s a 2012 model and hasn’t given any serious problems, despite us working it really hard on both spraying and liquid fertiliser application. Bateman’s customer service is also brilliant.

New Holland combine harvester

New Holland CR9090

Kit list

  • Tractors: Fendt 939; John Deere 7930, 7530 and 6910
  • Combine: New Holland CR9090
  • Drill: 6m Amazone Cayena tine drill with split seed and fert hopper, 6m Vaderstad Rapid, 4m Accord combination drill with Kuhn power harrow
  • Sprayer: Bateman RB35 with 36m booms
  • Loader: JCB Loadall 541-70
  • Trailers: 3x Stewart 20t, 16t Horsch Titan chaser bin, 3x 12t Ace trailers, 1x Baily low-loader, 1x KTwo flat
  • Cultivation kit: 4.6m Quivogne Tinemaster teamed with 4.6m Unipress, 6m Great Plains Express, four- and five-furrow Kverneland plough, Dowdeswell five-furrow plough, 9m Cousins cambridge rolls, Cousins progressive tined cultivator, 6m Kuhn Roterra
  • Other: 14t Hyundai 360 excavator, Spearhead hedgecutter, 3m McConnal topper

John Deere 7530 tractor

John Deere 7530

Least favourite piece of kit?

The grain dryers. We have a combination of some slow on-floor drying and an old 1950s continuous-flow system. This is slow, dusty, unreliable and I can’t stand using it. If I can get some money together I would like to replace them with a more modern batch or continuous-flow system. However, it looks as if I will probably get a contract dryer to do it in the meantime.

Latest purchase?

I have just invested in three new Stewart 20t grain trailers, which are seriously well-built bits of kit. We have also just bought a Fendt 939 to replace the original that arrived in 2012. That one is on 4,600 hours with a 5,000-hour warranty, so we thought it was time to move it on.

Oldest piece of machinery still at work?

We still have quite a bit of machinery knocking around from the 80s and 90s, but the Horsch chaser bin is probably the one that gets the most use. It has been used every harvest since we got it in the early nineties and it has never given us any trouble. It still looks almost as good as new.

We are also still using an old Cousins progressive tined cultivator. When it first arrived on the farm it was pulled by a fully ballasted John Deere 4955 and it put it on its knees. Now we tend to use it on the Fendt 939, which toys with it.

How long do you keep your machines?

We try our best to fix costs so most powered machines will stay as long as they are under warranty or not giving us any trouble. Typically, that’s about 5,000 hours on the tractors and about eight years on the combine.

Amazone Cayena drill

Amazone Cayena drill

What’s next on your wish list?

In the next two years I hope to change the sprayer and possibly one of the John Deeres. It would be nice to get the dryer upgraded sooner rather than later, too.

Most embarrassing machinery mistake?

Like most of the others working on the farm, I have dropped a tractor or two into one of the drainage ditches. Some are 12ft deep, so it definitely wakes you up when you go over the edge. Thankfully, I went in during the summer when the water level was fairly low, so we managed to pull the tractor out and there wasn’t too much damage done.

Most expensive repair?

We had an old John Deere 4955 that we just kept too long. We clocked up 8,000 hours with it, but got into a cycle of paying for expensive repairs, hanging on to it to make the repairs pay and then ending up getting another breakdown.

What’s your best invention?

We fabricate loads of bits and pieces on the farm such as weight boxes and frames and we seem to be constantly tweaking the bits of machinery we have so they work a bit better. I can’t think of any massively impressive inventions though.


Accord drill

Do you buy second-hand?

We tend to buy anything with an engine new, but we will pick up implements second-hand. We’ll also keep running really old stuff if it continues to work.

Favourite/least favourite job?

Corn carting is my favourite tractor-driving job, but I’m equally happy crop walking – I like plenty of variation. Anything to do with drying grain is my least favourite.

What’s your everyday transport?

I have an Isuzu D-Max that I bought new last November. It’s a good truck and a lot more practical than the Toyota Rav-4 run-around I had before.

Best tractor you have ever had?

The John Deere 6910 has to be the best tractor we’ve had. When we got it in 2001 it was top of the range with front links and pto and the first TLS front-axle suspension. Then it was one of the main tractors, but now it mainly does hedge-cutting, rolling and bowser hauling. It’s on 8,500 hours and has been really reliable.

Worst tractor you have ever had?

Our old JD 4955 doesn’t bring back any fond memories.

Biggest machinery bargain?

Our Horsch chaser bin. I am not sure what we paid for it, but it’s the only bit of kit that has gone up in value and still does a fantastic job.

The team at AA Clifton

The team at AA Clifton

Biggest machinery myth?

That modern machinery will drive itself. Modern machinery needs skilled operators as only one-quarter of the job is driving – the rest is setting it up. We are lucky we have a skilled, loyal team who know how we like to do the job, which pays for itself time and time again.