17 November 1995

EASTON TACKLE DOES A FINE JOB

Its been hot, hard and dusty. Andy Collings takes a look at how machinery at farmers weeklys Easton Lodge farm coped with the conditions.

FOR the vast majority of farmers south of the border it has been a year to remember – an easy harvest, reasonable yields, good prices and an autumn which has posed few, if any, problems.

And so it has been at farmers weeklys Easton Lodge farm near Stamford, Lincs. Farms manager John Lambkin is the first to admit that this years stress factor has registered an almost negative rating, with machines, men and weather working as one.

So, in a year which will be remembered and no doubt recounted to generations to come, how has Easton Lodges machinery performed?

"The first surprise is to note that, despite extremely dry and abrasive soils, our bill for wearing parts on cultivation equipment is about the same as any other year," says Mr Lambkin.

He puts this down to a sequence of cultivation operations which starts with a pass with a five-leg Farmrite Loosen-it cultivator working at a depth of just 20cm (8in).

"We bought this piece of kit some years ago to use as a three-leg subsoiler, but that was a mistake," he comments. "Working too deeply fetched up stone problems which were clearly better left where they were. Instead, we decided to add two more legs and a packer roller and use it at a much shallower depth."

Most of the land was cultivated in this way during August and, with little prospect of rain, left until the first week of September.

"Some of the ground needed discing but most of it was fit for us to move straight in with our power harrow/drill combination. It has not been a year for ploughing where autumn drilling is required, much better to keep the tilth on the top rather than bringing up unbreakable clods with the plough."

Autumn drilling workload comprised 113ha (283 acres) wheat, 16ha (40 acres) oilseed rape and 19ha (48 acres) of grass and wild flower mix on the set-aside area.

On the tractor front, a second-hand 120hp Fendt tractor – a 312LSA – was bought earlier this year to replace a 90hp MF3070, which had seen eight years service. Its arrival meant that the past years practice of hiring in a larger tractor for autumn cultivation work, and then another later in the year for winter ploughing, was not necessary.

"Hiring tractors by the week is not a particularly cheap option," says Mr Lambkin. "If it rains and you cannot get on the land you still have to pay for the hire and then there is the extra time you need it on top of that."

farmers weeklys Mill Farm at Sawston, Cambs, is also due to receive another tractor this year. A 115hp Fendt 311, it replaces a four-year-old 110hp MF3095, which, to get through this harvest, needed to have £8000 spent on it. That has not pleased Mr Lambkin and had some bearing on the introduction of a new combine harvester policy at Mill Farm.

Out has gone the New Holland 8040 and in has come a contractor. "The running costs of the 8040 worked out at £25/acre when labour, fuel, repairs and depreciation were taken into account, which compared with a contractor charge of £27.50, including straw chopping and grain carting to store," he explains. "Knowing that the 8040 was approaching its 12th season there was an increasing likelihood we would be facing a serious and expensive problem at some time."

Using a contractor also meant labour requirements were cut and there was now time to get on with autumn cultivations much earlier, with the knock-on advantages that has to offer.

Combine policy at Easton Lodge remains the same as it has for the past 25 years – to hire in a combine from APH, based near Peterborough – and is one which Mr Lambkin believes still makes economic sense.

"Obviously when we hire we do not have worries about breakdowns, there are no big financial investments, and no problems connected with storing a large machine for 10 months of the year," he says. "The New Holland 8060 we used this year performed reasonably well, with us only needing to call out APH a couple of times to deal with a few minor problems."

So, all in all, it has been a straightforward year at Easton Lodge. And, better still, the crops for next year appear to be well on the way to a healthy start. But that is another year. &#42

Easton Lodges Fendt 312 LSA Turbomatic, makes light work pulling a 5-furrow Dowdeswell plough and press. The 120hp Fendt replaced an eight year old 90hp MF3070 on which £8000 had been spent in repairs.

Farms manager, John Lambkin:"Despite the hard dry conditions earlier this year, our cultivation machinery has held up well."

Autumn spraying continues at Easton Lodge with the 115hp Fendt GTASystems tractor. Use of a front tank extends total capacity to 3000 litres – 2000 at the front and 1000 at the rear. The operator is David Cham.