3 August 2001

A season to remember

With more grass, fine weather

and few breakdowns, the 2001

silaging campaign turned out

to be a season to remember

for Suffolk contractor Robert

Self. Andy Moore paid him a

visit in early July

ACCESS restrictions caused by foot-and-mouth disease have threatened, if not killed the livelihoods of hundreds of silage contractors across the UK.

But fortunately for Suffolk contractor Robert Self, he says the campaign was business as usual.

Warm sunny weather enabled his team to crack on with 566ha(1400 acres) of first cut silage which was harvested over five weeks from May 11 to June 15.

"Although we started eight days later than usual, the good weather allowed us to go flat out with few hold-ups," he says. "We started silaging on lighter land and then moved on to marsh land as the grass matured and ground dried out."

The nearest confirmed foot-and-mouth cases to Mr Self have so far been in Essex, which he says have not affected his customers who are within a 35-mile radius of his base.

Even so, Mr Self has maintained a strict disinfecting routine when entering and leaving farms.

"With livestock farms accounting for 75% of our income, it has been a great relief not to have any confirmed cases inside or near our customer base. If all our silage customers went down with it we would probably struggle to survive." This season, Mr Self managed to pick up an extra 40ha (100 acres) of silage work from two farms which had ungrazed grass because stock had to be kept indoors due to movement restrictions.

Mowing the extra acreage was handled by a trailed Kuhn Alterna 500 mower and a new 170hp Fastrac 3185, the latter arriving in the contractors yard in early spring.

The Fastrac was bought to eliminate hiring in a tractor at £500 a week during peak periods and to carry out an increasing amount of road haulage work.

"In addition to mowing, the Fastrac will be employed to haul grain, sugar beet and vegetables or contracted out with a driver at quieter periods," he says. "We aim to run the Fastrac flat-out 11 months a year, putting about 1700 hours on the clock so it can bring in a consistent income alongside the other seasonal services."

When operated with the 5m trailed mower, output is said to be up to 32ha a day (80 acres), thanks to the Fastracs suspension and extra horsepower, compared with the previous 130hp John Deere 6900.

The trailed Alterna mower was bought three years ago to replace a 5m front and rear combination which had a number of drawbacks, says Mr Self.

Criticisms centred on the tractor engine radiator becoming blocked by grass thrown up from the front mower, and the combinations thirst for horsepower.

Harvesting grass this year has again been performed by a John Deere 6910 self-propelled forager which is now into its sixth season, despite Mr Selfs plan to chop the machine in for a new model.

"Running and deprecation costs for the 6910 are no different to when the machine was three years old," he claims. "Providing these costs are kept under control and the forager retains a modest residual value, we will keep the machine until a significant amount of money needs to be spent on it." Reliability of the 6910 is put down to meticulous maintenance; most of the foragers main internal components are replaced or repaired during the winter.

On the clamp and carting side, Mr Self has changed the way his company hauls and ensiles silage according to field proximity and volume of grass to be handled.

Harvesting early silage is typically carried out on fields nearest the farm first in order to free-up one of the three carting tractors for rolling alongside the buckrake.

As the forager moves away from the farm and carting distance increases, the third tractor is put back on haulage duty, with the buckrake tractor having more time to build and consolidate the clamp.

Although fields have to be harvested in order of grass maturity and pending weather, this system has allowed the carting and clamping team to be used to their full potential.

"The new carting and clamping system, together with a range of other new ideas is mainly down to a change in staff," he adds. "We have taken on a new employee who has helped to improve the efficiency of services and contribute to a more professional standard of work." &#42

ROBERT SELF

Base Grange Farm, All Saints

Road, Creeting St Mary, Ipswich

(01449-722711).

Work undertaken Sugar beet drilling and harvesting, maize drilling and harvesting, grass silaging, medium density straw baling, whole crop silaging, vegetable/grain haulage.

Machinery fleet Three John

Deere tractors, JCB Fastrac 3185, 410hp JD self-propelled forager 6910, two Krone Big Pack 80×80 balers, one self-propelled beet harvesters, Arcusin bale stacker, 5m Kuhn Alterna 500 trailed mower.

Labour Two full-time staff and four casuals at peak times.