15 January 1999

Enduring the rainy season

1998 was a year Cornish

Contractors Comment

contributor Graham Couch

prefers to forget; it went

out as it came in, raining.

Ian Marshall caught up

with him at the end of a

frustrating season

LAST autumn, water levels in Bodmins River Camel rose to the top of its banks – a level contractor Graham Couch has never seen before in all of the 40 years hes been at Bodwen Farm.

It is an incident which demonstrates just how wet the year was – not that Mr Couch needs any reminding. As the final days of 1998 approached, 62ha (150 acres) of ploughing and a similar area of drilling remained uncompleted. And he conceded that hope was fading fast.

"As far as I can recall, there has never been a season where the weather windows were not there to enable us to finish all the work," he says.

But although 1998 is best remembered at Bowden Farm for its abundance of liquid, the season is also a memorable one for the success of the machinery investment policy.

Other than tractors, Mr Couch buys well maintained and little used second-hand equipment, which is paid for in cash.

New and low-hour prime movers are bought on a finance scheme which involves one annual payment in July, when the grass silage service is generating a useful and timely income.

This summer only two machines will be subject to finance payments – the businesss P-registration 130hp Case Maxxum 5130 and a new 100hp New Holland TS110, which is soon to take over from a six-year-old 95hp New Holland 7740 with 7500hrs on the clock.

"It means we do not sacrifice operational efficiency or machine reliability and, as we are not committed to servicing high levels of interest and capital repayments throughout the year, we can maintain our charges to our customers, or keep any increases to a minimum.

"We had to put ploughing up by £1/acre this season, but it is still only £12/acre," says Mr Couch.

Other major investments in equipment this year have centred on the harvesting and drilling operations.

The start of the grass silage season saw a Claas Jaguar 860 self propelled forage harvester join the machinery fleet as a replacement for a 695 model.

"With only 2600 hours on the clock, the 695 was due to do another season. We did need a bigger forager and I was on the look out for an 840, but there werent any about," Mr Couch explains.

"However, I was offered a good trade in price against the 860, which is under three years old and had only 1550hrs on the clock."

Last season the 860 came into its own, its extra appetite allowing Mr Couch to take full advantage of breaks in the weather and get all the grass and maize silage in.

Maize harvesting was also helped by the arrival of a six-row Claas header, which replaced a four-row Kemper unit at the beginning of September.

"It has done 162ha (400 acres) and I am very pleased with its performance," says Mr Couch. "It allows us to work the harvester at full capacity and gives a good clean cut."

On the drilling side, the farms eight-year-old 3m (10ft) Farmhand 400 grain only drill has been replaced – with a 4m ((13ft) Vicon LZ401 Supaseeder.

"Weve increased the drilling area from 81-122ha (200-300 acres and we bought the Vicon for its accuracy of seed rate and sowing depth, especially on the sloping land.

Accurate metering

"Due to the weather weve only managed to put in 61ha (150 acres )of winter barley and some triticale, but the drill has worked extremely well. Its seed metering mechanism is very accurate – after the barley we had only about a bucketful left over."

Looking ahead, next season will be one of consolidation and continuing to look after existing customers; there are no plans to expand the sphere of operations.

Mr Couch does not want to get involved in combine harvesting as he thinks there is little call for the service in the area. Opportunities for spraying, too, are limited and he feels he cannot justify the cost of the operations health and safety requirements.

"There is no shortage of work, we just need the weather to get it all done." &#42

COUCH DATA

Base: Bodwen, Helland, Bodmin, Cornwall (01208-725507).

Work undertaken: Grass silage, maize silage, ploughing, drilling, hedge trimming, slurry and muck spreading.

Machinery fleet: Three main tractors — 140hp Fiat 140, 100hp Case Maxxum 5130, 95hp New Holland 7740SL. Also Ford 7610 with loader, Fiat 90-90. Claas Jaguar 860 self-propelled forager, 3m Claas Corto 3100N mower, three Bomford Turner B49X hedge trimmers. Dowdeswell 5f reversible plough, trailers, and muck spreaders.

Labour: Graham, Barry and Brian Couch, plus additional staff when required.