7 August 1998

Customer gets what

he pays for

Light but persistent rain last week brought straw baling

to a standstill for our East Anglian Contractors Comment

contributor. It provided him with time to discuss

an issue about which he feels strongly – rates for

the job. Ian Marshall reports

CONTRACTORS need farmers; farmers need contractors, says Robert Self.

"But if they are to rely on us, they have to do the same sums as we do and accept that, if they are to get a good, reliable service, they have to pay realistic, commercial rates." A hoary old chestnut perhaps, but Mr Self is adamant that if customers pay commercial rates it is they who stand to gain.

"I had hoped when the days of farmers using contractors as a fire brigade service ended things would change, but they havent," he says. "Farmers are still unwilling to pay the right amount, yet they expect the contractor to be there on time, with the latest equipment driven by skilled operators."

Mr Self believes that, to justify high machinery investment, many contractors are put in the position of having to take on acreage they cannot really handle.

"If the commercial rate was paid, contractors would be able to keep their equipment up to date, hire skilled staff and provide customers with the level of service they expect."

But he accepts contractors also have themselves to blame, too often taking the easier way out and going down the "more acreage" road.

"Even in the hard times, contractors must increase their prices, but for that, they must be prepared to give pledges," he maintains. And he believes he has shown that, when presented with a reasoned argument, farmers will accept this.

"Last year we reduced the area of sugar beet we lifted and increased the price by £10 to an average of £70/acre," he says.

"We demonstrated to our customers that by so doing we would be able to draw up a schedule in which they could be allotted a guaranteed lifting date. Only a few of the farmers we contacted with the proposal did not accept."

Reflecting on how things have been on the home front, Mr Self reports that operations have gone largely according to plan.

"The ammonia injection service we started last year has been well accepted, I am sure it is going to be big next season. First cut silage tonnage was up, as it was too wet to be grazed; unusual for this area.

"The new Shelbourne Reynolds 16ft Mentor rape swather did a good job. No problems over 1500 acres in 10 days working two 12 hour shifts despite well over half the crops being badly tangled."

With maize harvesting and sugar beet lifting on the horizon, Mr Selfs time is spent in the workshop making sure the two-year-old six-row Kemper header and two self propelled sugar beet harvesters – a Vervaet and a Riecam – are ready to roll. He is also building another diesel bowser.

"I have a serious thing about servicing," he admits. "We have a strict programme of rebuilding machinery in the order that we are going to use them as I cant let anything go out if I am not sure it is right.

"After a seasons work I have got a good idea which parts are going to wear and if any component is doubtful it gets replaced with a new part. I am not good at handling avoidable breakdowns in the field."

The Kemper is having its knife segments replaced and the Riecam has had all its earth-wearing parts, belts and filters replaced. The one-year-old Vervaet needs only a thorough service and some new drive belts.

As to the future, Mr Self is considering adding another service next season – combine harvesting.

"I feel it is the next operation to go the way of sugar beet harvesting," he says. "With cereal prices the way they are and the uncertainty in the arable sector, small and medium acreage farmers will be less able to justify having their own combines."

SELF BUSINESS DATA

&#8226 Base: Grange Farm, All Saints Road, Creeting St Mary, Ipswich (01449-722711).

&#8226 Work undertaken: Sugar beet drilling and harvesting, maize drilling and harvesting, grass silaging, medium density straw baling, rape swathing, whole crop silaging.

&#8226 Machinery fleet: Four John Deere tractors (110-170hp), 410hp John Deere self-propelled forager, two Krone BigPack 880 balers, two self propelled beet harvesters, Shelbourne Reynolds Mentor rape swather, Arcusin bale trailer, JD1360 and 228 mowers, plus associated tackle.

&#8226 Labour: Two full-time staff and up to 12 casuals during peak times.

"Farmers will accept an increase in charges if they are given pledges in return," says contractor Robert Self.

Rain stops play and its back to the barn once more for the Self baling team.