19 November 1999

New tackle policys key to speed and reliability

Investing in a new Fastrac

and Knight sprayer outfit in

April this year has helped to

lift workrates significantly

for Cumbrian Contractor

Comment brothers, John,

Steven and Kevin Horsley.

Andy Moore reports

WITH over 10 pieces of new kit bought this year, keeping machinery up to date and in tip-top condition is considered to be the key to survival for the Horsleys contracting firm.

"Being just five miles from the Irish Sea and right next to the Scottish border, weather very much dictates all our contracting services," says John Horsley. "Frequent renewal of kit helps ensure work is carried out quickly and reliably as possible before the weather rapidly turns across our 25-mile contracting radius."

The most significant purchase from the shopping list was a new Fastrac 2135 complete with a Knight 18m mounted sprayer. Replacing a smaller capacity tractor combination, the outfit was chosen as a robust alternative to a self-propelled sprayer, and is claimed to be capable of handling an extra 20% in spraying contracts.

"An increasing number of growers in our area are finding it difficult to satisfy stringent spraying legislation and are handing over more work to contractors," says Mr Horsley. "The Fastrac offers the speed and ride comfort to quickly complete long-distance jobs and the sprayer can be de-mounted in just 15 minutes."

Another time-critical operation, he says, is the top dressing service, which saw the replacement of one of three Amazone fertiliser spreaders to maintain a 4048ha (10,000 acres) workload from February to October. On the foraging side, Mr Horsley reports that grass silaging got off to a good start in early May, but was delayed in late June due to unpredictable weather.

"Like the weather, customers can occasionally be fickle. If we turn up slightly late or not get the job done due to bad weather, they are likely to permanently withdraw from the contract," he says.

Although a rare incidence, Mr Horsley claims losses are more than made up for by new recruits – an additional three taken on this year to consolidate the firms 8 to 24ha (20- to 60-acre) core farm sizes.

On a larger scale, the combine harvesting service extends to farms up to 202ha (500 acres) and is carried out by four Claas Dominator machines, all over 10 years old.

Fitted with 4.50m and 5.10m headers, the combines are also considered to be suitable for the localitys smaller mixed growers. "Trading in two machines for a larger Lexion combine would prove too big for our customers field sizes and would not keep four growers happy at once," comments Mr Horsley. "The machines might be long in the tooth, but they have proven very reliable over the years and are religiously maintained in the winter."

Combining started on July 7 -earlier than normal for grain crimping – and continued to mid-Sept-ember for the tail-end of the wheat.

As advocates of Claas machinery, the firm aims to replace the larger one of the two Jaguar self-propelled foragers with a new machine next year.

Clocking up 3000 hours over four seasons, the forager is said to have performed well with few repair costs. Depreciation is expected to be about 60% to 70%.

On the cultivations front, much of the Horsleys customer base centres on primary instead of minimal tillage techniques. Investment for this area has included a new five furrow Kverneland plough and a 3m Reco/Sulky drill combination.

"Ploughing charge rates are about £12 to £13/acre and have remained static mainly because of increased competition and growers doing more work themselves," says Mr Horsley. "In some respects, competition is putting the brakes on our expansion but there is no way we will be screwed down on rates."

An example of how the business has remained buoyant in the agricultural recession might be seen from the success of the slurry umbilical service introduced nearly five years ago. Up to its peak earlier this year, the service spread over 10m gallons of slurry from 50 farms.

Looking ahead, next year will see a thorough testing of the Horsleys two recently purchased New Holland TS115 tractors which replaced two 7840s as general-purpose machines. And, with the John Deere tractors nearing the end of their life expectancy, plans will include upgrading to Deeres triple link front suspension system. &#42

HORSLEY FACTS

Base Old Junction Yard, Abbeytown, Carlisle, Cumbria (01697-361762)

Work undertaken All arable operations; grass, maize and whole crop silage; lime spreading; umbilical slurry spreading; hedge cutting.

Machinery fleet Eight tractors – mix of Deere and New Holland plus two JCB Fastracs. Two Claas self-propelled forage harvesters. Four Claas combines. Three 3m power harrow/drill combinations: Two mounted sprayers, 5.8m mower conditioner combination.

Labour John, Kevin and Steven Horsley; three full-time staff and extra casuals during peak periods.