27 November 1998

No machinery keeps outlay to a minimum

Rethinking farm strategy

can bring big benefits as

Andrew Swallow found out

when he visited farms in

Beds and Northants

NO field machinery means arable profits are simple – even at todays prices, according to a Beds farm manager and his consultant agronomist.

Phillip Maxey manages 400ha (1000 acres) of heavy, chalky clay at Trinity Hall Farm, near Leighton Buzzard. With just a JCB Loadall for machinery and no labour, fixed costs are minimal and the large scale operation brings excellent service from contractors.

Axient consultant Bill Barr confirms his claims. "The overhead costs at Trinity Hall are about £75/ha less than average. And contract charges mean we can allocate each cost to each crop precisely."

That focuses the mind on every pass, says Mr Maxey. "Our approach is completely different to that if we owned machinery. Preparing rape seed-beds this autumn with heavy discs we would probably have gone twice if we owned the kit. But for the risk of an odd poor patch, a second pass was not worth it. The crop now looks very good and I know I was right."

He moved to Trinity Hall in 1989 when the investment trust owners realised returns from an existing share farming agreement were below par. "All around people were making healthy profits, but Trinity Hall hadnt done so for three years," says Mr Maxey. With no equipment on hand, or accommodation for full-time labour, contracting out every operation was opted for rather than a costly shopping spree.

Nine years later the policy is providing returns that are hard to beat, says Mr Barr. Contractor Robert Barnes works 1600ha (4000 acres) of arable land in addition to Trinity Hall farm, so an extensive range of efficient equipment is available.

"We call the shots on what the contractor does. I dont believe we could establish crops for the same cost with our own equipment," says Mr Maxey.

Contractor timeliness is excellent. A combine is virtually allocated to Trinity Halls crops, and the 24m (80ft) pneumatic spreader means cheap prilled urea can be applied accurately, cutting fertiliser bills.

Operations are paid for on a price-per-pass basis, with no formal commitments. That means maximum flexibility, with the opportunity to switch in or out of crops, or even put un-drilled land into higher rate set-aside. &#42

1998 Operational costs £/ha

Crop Establishment Applications Harvest Total

1st wht 154 50 88 291

2nd wht 101 57 88 246


&#8226 Machinery nearly nil.

&#8226 Management input essential.

&#8226 Size matters for contractor.

&#8226 Maximum cropping flexibility.