Nicks a smooth operator
Customers, agronomists and equipment manufacturers all influence the lot of the spraying contractor.
Peter Hill asked Nick Parslow how they can help make the spraying season go smoothly – or otherwise
THERE are not many weeks during the year when the self-propelled sprayer/spreader operated by Nick Parslow is standing idle.
For one thing, it is used to carry out all crop protection and fertiliser spreading operations at Upper Farm, a 182ha (450-acre) arable unit at Nuneham Courtenay near Oxford. For another, it gets through a large workload of contract spraying – 5668ha (14,000 acres) last year.
"We bought our first Chaviot for low ground pressure spraying because a lot of the ground gets pretty sticky in the autumn and early spring," explains Upper Farm manager Nick Parslow. "But we needed to go contracting to justify the cost of the machine and things have grown to the extent that it has now become a business in its own right."
With quickly interchangeable 24m (80ft) spray gear, 12m (40ft) granule applicator and a 12m to 24m fertiliser broadcaster, the Chaviot 2000 is used pretty much year-round.
The workload kicks off applying Avadex granules, then autumn herbicides in cereals and oilseed rape, followed by a quiet couple of months at the beginning of the year when there is time to fit in a holiday.
After that, things begin in earnest, with herbicides, plant growth regulators, fungicides and insecticides, some in-crop glyphosate spraying, and all the farms top-dressing work keeping the machine busy right through to harvest.
"The workload has steadily increased over the years but I have been careful to maintain a good standard of service," Nick Parslow comments. "If you can do that, customers will keep coming back. Im pleased to say that Ive been working for probably 98% of my customers for seven or eight years."
Regular communication and prompt reaction to requests for spraying are two key elements in building a successful contractor/ customer relationship, he adds.
"With mobile phones, there really is no excuse for contractors not to keep their customers informed of progress or spraying plans, nor for customers not to keep their contractors informed of the availability of chemicals, the state of crops, and so on," he comments.
"As for responding to spraying orders, I aim to be on the farm either the next day or the day after, weather permitting," says Mr Parslow. "Leave it any longer and crops may start to grow away from optimum timings for treatments. Besides, customers begin to wonder when you are going to turn up if you are not there promptly. Its all part of building confidence in the service," he adds.
In return, Mr Parslow expects prompt payment of invoices and in the great majority of cases, he gets it.
"I had to chase money once a few years ago and I havent been back to spray on the farm since," he says. "In my experience, farmers who appreciate a reliable service are prepared to pay promptly for it."
More than two-thirds of the workload is initiated by Paul Wilson, the local agronomist with Ross-on-Wye, Hereford-based agrochemical specialist Techni-crop, although all spraying arrangements and transactions are made direct with the farmers concerned.
Simplicity and clarity are important elements in communications between agronomist and contractor. As a rule, Paul Wilson lets Nick Parslow know when he is going to walk a farms crops, spraying instructions are then faxed to his office, arrangements made with the customer, and Technicrop gets the materials on-farm.
Now that Paul Wilsons spraying recommendations are now printed off his portable computer, the details are always comprehensive and clear.
"Agronomists hand-written spraying instructions can be like a doctors prescription, hard to read," says Nick Parslow. "Writing clearly is one thing they can do to help, though it rarely causes a problem because I can check details over the phone if necessary."
Technicrop does a good job of getting materials on to farm promptly, Nick Parslow reckons. "Its usually there the next day, certainly within a couple of days, and thats a big help in keeping the spraying workload on schedule," he comments.
Direct contact with Techni-crops dispatch manager also helps keep tabs on availability of materials. The fact that every farm now has its own chemical store makes finding the materials on-farm much easier than in the past.
"In some cases I have my own key so I can help myself and get on with the job; the same goes for gates that have to be kept shut for security," notes Mr Parslow. "It all helps things go smoothly."
The crucial thing customers can do, though, is provide a good water supply which is essential to get a quick turn-around. Most now do, in the form of a self-filling tank plumbed into the mains water supply, or a bowser and hose. But despite the further gains in workrate that would come from filling in the field, Nick Parslow prefers to run back to the yard each time.
"Its simply that arranging an in-field water supply using a mobile bowser complicates the system. I would rather not have to rely on other people." *
Another busy spraying season gets under way as Nick Parslows Chaviot 2000 applies growth regulator to Spark winter wheat at Upper Farm. It clocked up more 5600ha (14,000 acres) of contract spraying last year.
Nick Parslow: "Good communications and prompt response to spraying orders all help to build confidence in the contract spraying service."