20 September 1996

Nearly new kit neednt be a bag of trouble

Given good back-up and a watertight warranty, Cornish contractor Graham Couch reckons buying a "nearly new" forager is cost effective for the medium-sized business. Andrew Faulkner reports

BUYING second-hand, and buying trouble: Like having muck and making money, the one would seem inextricably linked to the other.

But are they? Not according to our south-west silaging contractor, Graham Couch, who is a keen advocate of investing in one-season-old rather than showroom-new equipment – particularly when it comes to higher cost kit such as self-propelled foragers.

"In this part of the world, we simply cannot justify spending £100,000 on a new forager," Mr Couch explains.

"Its farm and field size, not harvester power, that restricts our daily output; we just wouldnt be able to cover enough ground in a day to make a new machine pay."

Even so, Mr Couch and his two brothers, Brian and Barry, still manage to clamp an annual 1100ha (2700 acres) of grass and 300ha (800 acres) of maize – 280ha (700 acres) up on last year, and a total they certainly couldnt have achieved using their previous trailed harvester system.

The Bodmin-based firm initially upgraded from trailed to self-propelled forager back in 1993, and Mr Couch concedes the move represented a daunting financial commitment for the firm. Opting for a 12-month-old 316hp Claas 690SL, rather than a new one, made that commitment considerably less painful.

"We couldnt face the prospect of the machine losing up to £30,000 in value in the first year."

"As it turned out, by opting for a year-old model and selling it after three seasons, we only lost about £13,000 over the whole period."

The 690 and the Couchs finally parted in May, when the now four-year-old forager was replaced by an 18-month Claas Jaguar 695 Mega. Like the 690, the 354hp 695 came from from Glos-based Mill Engineers, complete with 12-month warranty.

"If wed had a lot of trouble with the 690 or hadnt been able to get a good warranty, we may have reconsidered buying new this time. But, over the period we owned the old 690, the only real problem we had was one header gearbox. And that was it."

So far this season, buying second-hand has again proved a good decision for the Couchs. The 695 has clocked up a further 500 hours – on top of the 1300 hours already showing – with, to date, the only 1996 downtime being to replace a burnt-out metal detector clutch.

Surprisingly, average output is probably no more than last year, despite the 695 punching an extra 38hp. At the top end of performance, daily output has certainly been higher on farms with up to 40ha (100 acres) of first-cut grass in fields of 8ha+ (20 acre+). The Couchs norm, however, is a customer who shuts off just 20ha (50 acres) in 4ha (10-acre) blocks, and that knocks the firms potential to push workrates.

"Our problem is that by the time youve moved between small fields and farms, its difficult to get much above 50 acres done in a day.

"Thats why we could never justify spending out on a £90,000+ machine, which needs to be doing 100 acres+. Wed rather spend less, be under less pressure to go flat out and do a proper job."

With the harvester changed this season, the major foraging investment for 1997 will be a new mower to replace the firms three-year-old Claas Corto 300 – a 3m (10ft) wide four-drum model, which is starting to show distinct signs of campaign fatigue.n


&#8226 Base: Bodwen, Helland, Bodmin, Cornwall (01208-72507).

&#8226 Operating area: Within a 32km (20-mile) radius of base.

&#8226 Farming area: Predominantly mixed dairy/cereal enterprises with some moorland stock units.

&#8226 Work undertaken: Forage harvesting grass and maize, hedge trimming, slurry and muck spreading.

&#8226 Machinery fleet: Three main tractors – 140hp Fiat F140 Winner, 100hp Case Maxxum 5130 and 95hp New Holland 7740SL -, 354hp Claas Jaguar 695 Mega self-propelled forager, two Gaspardo maize drills, 6000-litre (1300gal) Malgar slurry tanker, three rotary muck spreaders and three Bomford Turner B49X hedge trimmers.

&#8226 Labour: Graham, Brian and Barry Couch, plus extra seasonal staff.


BUSINESS DATA

A welcome break from foraging. Graham, Brian and Barry Couch empty a slurry lagoon at Park Farm, Cardinham, near Bodmin, before gearing up for maize harvest – start date in their region is looking like mid-October.

Graham Couch with his 18-month-old Claas Jaguar 695 Mega: "Buying new was not an option."

Not much downtime – so far. The second-hand foragers only stop, to date, has been to replace a burnt-out metal detector clutch.