20 October 1995

Grass harvest extended by acute lack of fodder

With farmers in the south east short on winter fodder, Sussex contractor GBElliott expects to be harvesting grass silage into November. Andrew Faulkner reports

DIFFERENT seasons leave different memories for different people. So though livestock farmers will probably remember 1995 as a year of forage stock worries, most of their silage harvesting contractors will recall one of their easiest seasons in recent history.

In a past column (Machinery, June 9) our southern contractor, Graeme Elliott, explained why this years grass harvesting season was good for contractors – consistent crop yields and dry ground in May/June putting less strain on machines and gang. Continuing the smooth progress theme, Mr Elliott completed the harvesting of his 445ha (1100-acre) booked maize area as early as Oct 12.

"Again it is the weather that made the maize season easier than normal," says Mr Elliott.

"Because farmers were desperate for fodder in late summer we were able to start harvesting in the last week of August – three weeks earlier than usual – and we did not really stop again until the heavy rains arrived in the first week of October."

Mr Elliott runs a three-year-old 356hp Reco Mammut self-propelled forager to harvest the firms annual 800ha (2000 acres) of grass and 400ha (1000 acres) of maize. Bulky forage maize tends to be much harder on the machine than grass but even the cobbed crop has caused the Elliott Reco few problems this year.

The only serious breakdown was the shearing of the Mammuts bottom feed roller fixing bolts, which happened in the first week of October. A new shaft and fixing bolts from Recos Cambridgeshire base were the cure.

Still a niggle is the foragers auto sharpening device, which continues to sharpen the blades unevenly. Stone honing is needed at least twice a week. This translates into more daily setting up time for fitter Christian Maherloughnan and operator Adrian Woods.

Other than this, Mr Elliott has been pleased with his blue-and-white machines performance and Mengele will figure among his replacement options for next season. Whether a new machine arrives in 1996 depends on a big forager maker coming up with a contract hire deal which converts into a similar cost/acre figure as the one Mr Elliott is paying for his existing machine.

Retail price for a new outfit – 4WD, crop processor and 4.5m (14ft 9in) wide Kemper rotary header – is about £160,000-£180,000. Even with a 30-40% discount this still represents a massive investment and explains the perennial contractor grumble over the level of UK charge-out rates.

"UK contractor charges are 50% less than our European counterparts. They only have to cover 500-600 acres to make their machines pay and think we are mad working for the rates we do in the UK," says Mr Elliott.

The Sussex-based firm charges £125-£150/ha (£50-£60/acre) for a complete maize harvesting operation, depending on the number of trailers required and whether the farmer wants help with sheeting up and "tyring" down.

Mr Elliott admits his is one of the more expensive outfits in an area where he has heard of quotes as low as £87.50/ha (£35/acre). But he makes no apology. "We need to charge these levels to enable us to do a quality job and to re-invest in new equipment.

"Spending hours over setting up the forager to get the exact chop length and degree of kernel crack have a cost. Fortunately our customers recognise this. They are more interested in cost a tonne of silage consumed than a simple cost an acre figure. &#42

&#8226 Work undertaken: All arable operations, forage harvesting maize and grass and round/medium square baling of silage and straw.

&#8226 Main machinery: Eight Case IH tractors (100-155hp), four combine harvesters, Reco Mengele 6800 Mammut self-propelled forage harvester, JCB 412 wheeled loader and Matbro Teleram telescopic handler.

&#8226 Labour: Seven machine operators and two stockmen. All self-employed.

From grass to maize and then back to grass. Graeme Elliott (inset) has moved his Reco Mammut self-propelled forager from maize back on to grass to meet local demand for more fodder.