21 February 1997

Instinct leads the way

There may be little science to it, but the gut feel approach to machinery investment remains the preferred practice of many. Andrew Faulkner visits two advocates, Cumbrian contracting brothers John and Kevin Horsley

DISCOUNTED cash flows, fixed cost analysis and capital budgets may be integral factors in the new equipment equation – for some. But others take a different view.

Our Cumbrian contractors, John Horsley and his brother Kevin, fall into the latter category. They have a more "gut feel" approach to tackle investment, with accountants and spreadsheets playing little part in their decision making. If neither the money nor the work is available to justify starting a new enterprise, or even to just upgrade a machine, they dont do it.

"Down south, contractors may be able to get early commitments from their farmer customers for a seasons business. But it does not work quite like that up here," says John Horsley. "In this area, farmers wont be doing with talking about silage harvest in February. It is springtime before they start thinking about it, if we are lucky. That obviously makes planning our machinery needs difficult."

Perhaps surprisingly, Mr Horsley does not see this late planning approach as too much of a problem. After 30 years of coping with the system, buying equipment just before the start of the working season now comes naturally. And , as he puts it, it is the only way you can be sure there is sufficient guaranteed work to justify the spend.

"Manufacturers and dealers are always trying to tempt us with fancy finance deals to buy machines out of season. But that is no more than sales talk. We have never yet had a problem getting hold of a machine later on, and these late deals seem to be just as competitive as those offered earlier on."

For 1997, the main Horsley machinery dilemma rests with the baling operation: Whether to swap one of the firms Welger RP200 round balers for one of the clutch of medium square models – the current in-vogue machines in most other parts of the country – or simply to replace round for round.

The decision making path looks like following a familiar pattern. Delay, delay and, if unsure, delay a little longer. Repenting at leisure is not on Mr Horsleys agenda, and he makes no apology for his ponderous but deliberate tactics.

"Take the big baler as an example," he says. "There are already three or four such machines operating in this area, and it would have been easy to have gone out and bought one this winter, thinking there was work and money to be had. But I am not convinced the machine is right for this region." He reckons his customers are now set up with buildings and equipment for handling round bales. Most also have some arable ground, so they do not need to ferry in straw over long distances – a job the big square shape is particularly suited to.

Nonetheless, Mr Horsley is reserving judgement. He admits medium square bales have a role and may yet take off in his area, the Solway Plain. If they do, the fight for a place on the Horsley fleet will be between New Hollands D1010, the Krone Big Pack and Welger D4000. And, going on past make allegiance, the Belgian-built New Holland machine is likely to get the nod.

So, having dealt with the possibles for 1997, are there any definite items on Mr Horsleys shopping list? "Well, two of the smaller tractors are due for a change and, if the deal looks right and finances are healthy, the eldest of the four combines will go, too," he says.

New tractor choice is an intriguing one, with the existing Horsley fleet a mixed assortment of New Holland and John Deere. Only six weeks into 1997, the first bout has already gone to the blue corner: A New Holland 7840SL, blown by the local dealer from 100hp to 120hp, replaced a standard 100hp 7840SLE in late January.

What makes that model choice particularly interesting is the Horsleys history with past and current 40 Series tractors; in simple terms, it has been a catalogue of catastrophes. So why go back for what could be a dose of the same?

"Although we have had more than our share of trouble, the 7840 is still basically a good tractor. It has a high power to weight ratio – even better with the turbo fitted – and it is well suited to the trailer/top work we are looking for from this tractor.

"Also, despite all the past problems, we have had excellent back-up from the local New Holland agent, Lloyds Tractors in Carlisle." There speaks the selling power of a sound dealer.

As for combines, that decision is not taxing Mr Horsley too heavily at the moment. Again, whether he upgrades the four-harvester fleet in the weeks running up to harvest will depend on the deals available and the state of the firms finances in June.

To some, these drawn-out invest-ment tactics may seem a curious combination of decision delay and wily manoeuvres. But, for the Horsleys at least, it works. &#42

Blue remains the colour for Horsleys of Abbeytown – for now, at least. Latest addition to the firms mainly New Holland tractor fleet is this 7840SL, seen here hitched up to a 7t Land Drive lime spreader. Other Horsley prime movers include a 155hp JCB Fastrac 155-65 and two John Deeres.

Contracting brothers, John (left) and Kevin Horsley, are firm advocates of "not making snap decisions" when buying machinery.


HORSLEY FACTS


&#8226 Base Old Junction Yard, Abbeytown, Carlisle (016973-61762).

&#8226 Work undertaken All arable operations, grass silage making, limespreading, hedgetrimming and slurry spreading with umbilical system.

&#8226 Fleet Seven tractors (predominantly New Holland), two Claas self-propelled foragers, four Claas combines, three 3m (10ft) power harrow drill combinations, two Hardi mounted sprayers, and 5.8m (19ft) wide Kuhn mowing outfit.

&#8226 Labour John and Kevin Horsley, three full-time staff.