27 March 1998

A mixed fleet keeps all the options open

Russian roulette or

calculated decision? Its all

the same for our Cumbrian

contracting brothers John

and Kevin Horsley, who have

been making subtle changes

to their machinery fleet

BLUE or green? Thats the dilemma which has been facing Cumbrian brothers John and Kevin Horsley, who have recently swopped a New Holland 7840 tractor for a John Deere 6800.

It is the second green machine to join the once predominantly blue fleet, and a test drive is on the cards to try one of John Deeres latest 6010-series tractors with front axle suspension.

So could this be the start of something new at the brothers Abbeytown, Carlisle, base?

"Oh no," says John Horsley, displaying a little affection for the blue marque. "We do not want to put all our eggs in one basket. A mixed fleet keeps our options open when it comes to matching tractors to specific tasks."

"Besides, Kevin is not keen on the Deeres so we will always have to keep at least one New Holland."

Already using a 130hp John Deere 6900 on the fleet, Mr Horsley had little doubt where the money would go when change-over time came round.

"The Deere 6900 has so far helped to cut our repair bills by 20%, so we had to try another one. But it had to be a bit lighter, and the 120hp 6800 seems to fit the bill," says John Horsley. "Okay, so it is early days yet, but the first signs are encouraging.

"The 7840 was a good lightweight tractor for top work, but having it turbod up to 120hp just meant it was always working a little too hard. It is not so much the repair bills that hurt as the downtime and lost work that goes with it.

"And with about 5000 hours on the clock, it had done its quota and was naturally up for replacement."

But it is not just the tractor fleet that has been under scrutiny. A new forage harvester has been brought to the top of John Horsleys shopping list. Gone is the firms older 220hp Claas Jaguar 682SL self-propelled forager – a machine which has spent only two seasons on the Horsley fleet – to make way for a more powerful 330hp Claas Jaguar 820.

"The deal has been stewing since Christmas and we have only just come to a satisfactory result on the price," explains John Horsley.

"We were struggling with horsepower all last season with an ever increasing grass and maize acreage, so the 820s extra 110hp should come in useful. We will be looking at a combined acreage of about 7000 acres this season, so we had to get some foraging capacity in reserve."

But with an increasing acreage, why stop at just 330hp?

"An extra 110hp is a good jump up the foraging ladder, but even more importantly, it means we can still cope without having to gear up mowing, hauling and clamping equipment."

And with hindsight, Mr Horsley recognises he should have bought the more powerful 820 two years ago, instead of the 682SL.

Fortunately, this latest change to the machinery line up puts the Horsleys in a strong position. It means relatively young equipment on the books, and there are no further changes due over the coming months.

"We do not want too many large, outstanding payments on machinery if we are going to have to wait a bit longer for customers to pay their bills," says John Horsley, who does not anticipate his workload decreasing over the coming season. "As fewer farmers can afford to replace their own machines, we ought to be picking up a little extra business."

But considering the plight that most sectors of agriculture face at the moment, John Horsley reckons this season could need an ever closer eye on how long it takes to get his invoices paid. &#42

Cumbrian contracting brothers John and Kevin Horsley have been making some subtle changes to their machinery fleet. The aim is to provide more capacity to ensure the business can cope with an increasing acreage.

A quiet spell in the Horsley workload gives time to look over the machinery – this combines auger is off to Midland Combines for an overhaul.

HORSLEY FACTS

&#8226 Base Old Junction Yard, Abbeytown, Carlisle (016973-61762).

&#8226 Work undertaken All arable operations, grass and maize silage, lime spreading, slurry spreading with umbilical system and hedgecutting.

&#8226 Machinery fleet Seven tractors (mix of Deere and New Holland, plus one JCB Fastrac), two Claas self-propelled foragers, four Claas combines, three 3m (10ft) power harrow/drill combinations, two mounted sprayers, and a 5.8m (19ft) mowing combination.

&#8226 Labour John, Kevin and Steven Horsley, plus three full-time staff, then extra casuals during peak periods.