19 August 1997

Harvesting on wider horizons – in Russia

MOST of the customers who use Colin Hinchleys Nottingham-shire-based contracting business are within a 30-mile radius. But this year his interests have spread rather farther afield – to Russia in fact, where he is now playing a part in gathering the countrys harvest.

The Russian connection began with an invitation to organise a harvesting operation being set up by a UK company with business interests in Russia.

Matrix Trading Co had an agreement to supply combines to harvest crops in an area 600km south of Moscow, and Mr Hinchley agreed to organise the project.

"I agreed to take it on because I liked the look of it," he explains. "We started off on a small scale this year with two new Claas combines, but there appears to be a lot of potential in the area for harvesting and possibly for other contracting work."

Mr Hinchley, who visited Russia three times this year to set up the harvesting operation, says Russian farmers welcomed the idea if only because they do not have money to buy their own modern equipment.

Machinery is mostly old and often badly maintained, and the idea of a contract service with new combines was attractive.

Fantastic soil

"The soil in the area where the combines are working is fantastic, but theres no money for fertiliser so the crops are grown organically and yields are very variable," he says. "Yields from some of the wheat we have harvested have been as low as two tonnes per hectare, and we have harvested barleys with yields of 3 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare.

"Its not the fault of the farmers. The ones I met seem very intelligent and I am sure they would be quite capable of farming efficiently if they had the opportunity, but they are in a difficult situation. Their yields are low because they cant afford the inputs, and the low yields mean there is not enough income to pay for the investment they need."

This years Russian harvest brigade comprises two new Claas Maxi 108 combines equipped with 20ft headers. The combines are operated by two English drivers recruited by Mr Hinchley, and they are working with a Russian back-up team.

Harvesting started in July and progress so far has been good in spite of delays caused by wet weather.

Crops to be harvested includes peas, millet, sunflowers and buckwheat as well as barley and wheat. The combines are working in an area where 400ha (1000 acres) is a typical field size and their biggest customer is a farm totalling no less than 12,500ha (31,000 acres).

"Planning the work schedule was very complicated," says Mr Hinchley. "I have been in close contact with the Russian Ministry of Agriculture and with the agricultural specialists at the local university. They were very helpful and sent me the weather records and other information I needed."

Harvesting conditions

He was also able to get information on harvesting conditions in Russia and eastern Europe from Claas – a company which has a great deal of experience in these parts of the world.

But Mr Hinchley concedes there was still a certain amount of guesswork in trying to estimate the work rate the combines could achieve.

"It has certainly been an interesting experience, and I got on very well with the Russians I met. Theres a lot of potential in the area, but it is too early to say how the contracting programme will develop next year."n

Harvesting a mediocre crop of wheat some 600km south of Moscow with the Claas Maxi 108 combines equipped with 20ft headers.

Colin Hinchley: "Yields of wheat have been as low as two tonnes/ha."