Challenging year in the wet, but good points, too
Rain – lots of it at the
wrong time – has not only
seriously hit this seasons
work, it could also have a
knock on effect for next years
operations, says Scottish
contractor, D M Carnegie.
Ian Marshall reports
WITH 50% more rainfall this year than last, it is no surprise that the weather dominates David Carnegies memories of 1998.
Based at Steelstrath, Laurencekirk, Grampian, rain hampered operations from February onwards, spring barley drilling took three months to finish – a month longer than normal – and there was never a settled period during silage making, spraying or harvest.
"And blight pressure was so high we were forced to spray in horrific conditions, often leaving deep wheelings," he says. "But there was no choice, we had to get the chemical on."
Despite these woeful highlights of a challenging year, there have, also been some good points, says Mr Carnegie.
Notable has been the performance of his 212hp Claas Challenger 35/6m Vaderstad Rapid pneumatic grain-only drill combination, bought for this seasons autumn sowing campaign.
A departure from the traditional wheeled tractor/3m (10ft) power harrow based drilling system normally practised at Steelstrath, Mr Carnegie feels it has paid off. "So far we have put in 1400 acres with the combination and the concept has proved itself in terms of increased output.
"Our best has been 82 acres in a 14-hour day over three farms with 25 miles of travelling between them. So, given the ground conditions and less roadwork, I am confident the combination will be capable of 100 acres a day."
Mr Carnegie also feels fewer wheelings and reduced ground compaction have contributed significantly to the units success. "The Challenger leaves a 62in track mark every 6m, whereas a dual-wheeled tractor/power harrow combination – running at about double the ground pressure – puts down a 64in footprint every 3m," he says.
"Greater output and a lighter tread have meant we have been able to take full advantage of weather windows, and continue to drill when conditions were not ideal.
"We have picked up more drilling business, which is why we bought the combination, although we have not achieved as many acres as we would have liked, due to the poor weather." Continued wet weather has also been responsible for delaying the baling of about 300 acres of straw on land destined to be drilled this autumn, an operation usually completed by the end of October.
Overall, the knock-on effect of delayed autumn cultivations – compounded by poor yields, low prices and the 5% increase in set aside – has seen a significant drop in Mr Carnegies autumn workload.
Oilseed rape drilling is down by an estimated 25-30%, winter barley by at least 50%, and wheat by 30%. He is confident, though, that this shortfall will be compensated for by a rise in spring barley drillings.
With all the field work nearly wrapped up – as far as possible, that is – Mr Carnegie has had time to consider future strategies to counter the effect of reduced commodity prices on the long-term structure of farming.
To achieve the economies of scale needed to bring down unit costs of production, he says farming operations will need to get bigger, with only these units and contractors able to justify the cost of new, high output machinery and equipment.
"Smaller to medium acreage concerns will have to rely increasingly on contractors if they are to remain viable. But with the arrangement on a different footing. I wonder if we will have to go more on to a contract farming basis with out customers?
"For the farmer there is the advantage of reduced and better controlled fixed costs. On our part, a more specific knowledge of the seasons workload would help us to plan our machinery needs in terms of numbers and type, and their use, which could also give us room to cut the cost of some operations." *
• Base Steelstrath, Laurencekirk, Grampian (01674-840288).
• Work undertaken All arable and livestock operations.
• Machinery fleet Includes 30 wheeled tractors (80-160hp), 212hp Claas Challenger 35. Primary and secondary cultivations equipment, five 3m/4m power harrow/pneumatic drill combinations and 6m Vaderstad Rapid. Seven combines, 10 rape swathers, range of conventional and self-propelled sprayers. One high density, 3 medium density large balers, round baler, bale wrappers. New Holland S1900 self propelled forager, Vicon HPC mower conditioner. Range of slurry tankers and muck spreaders, two Big A lime spreaders.
• Labour 35 full time.