27 March 1998

Rings – not so threatening

Machinery rings – a bane or

blessing for contractors?

Peter Hill asked Lincs

operator Andrew Baxter for

his view

THE rapid evolution of machinery rings up and down the country sent a shiver down the spines of many contractors.

They would surely mop up much of their work with lower rates and, through commission, skim a percentage of profits from any work won through the ring.

But contractors of a more pragmatic disposition could see benefits from machinery rings – a potential source of new work with little or no promotional effort, security of payment, and perhaps also a ready source of a helping hand when needed.

And so it has proved for contractors who have managed to turn the machinery ring "threat" to their advantage.

At Bone Mill Farm, Sleaford, Lincs, Andrew and Adrian Baxter saw little to get concerned about as the activities and influence of the Lincolnshire Machinery Ring progressed southwards from its stronghold to the north of the county.

"In fact we were introduced to the ring by another contractor," says Andrew Baxter. "It was a bit galling to be phoned now and then by fellow members wanting to know how much to charge for ploughing his neighbours land and that sort of thing, but we felt that being involved with the ring could only be good for the business."

Range of operations

That business, started by Andrew and Adrians father 40 years ago and now run by the two brothers, has a complementary range of specialist operations employing 10 full-time and up to 20 part-time staff during peak periods.

Sugar beet operations – drilling, harvesting, cleaning and haulage – make one of the biggest contributions, together with straw baling for processing and the trade using a fleet of seven big balers.

Then there is oilseed rape swathing – about 1400ha (3500 acres) with four machines – manure spreading and transporting potatoes as well as other general truck haulage work.

With such an active contracting service already up and running, becoming a member of the ring has not opened the floodgates to new work. In fact, says Andrew Baxter, it is as well to remind the ring authorities of your availability now and then.

"I think we get a fair crack of the whip when it comes to distribution of work but it is not a major part of our operations," he says. "All the same, the ring is a help to the business in a number of other respects."

Getting paid within two weeks of submitting completed work schedules is clearly an advantage to cash flow, as well as a security when dealing with a new, unknown customer for the first time. The financial well-being of the business is also helped through the extra discounts on oils and greases, fuel, and auction commission that comes from dealing with suppliers that are also ring members.

Similarly, the ready availability of labour and an extra tractor or two through the ring is a management advantage in a busy season.

"Last year, we took on six part-time staff, as well as two tractors and drivers, through the ring for the first time," explains Mr Baxter. "It is easier to arrange and, if the man is not suitable for our operations, then things can be changed."

Apparent lack of trade between rings in different areas has been a disappointment – machinery ring involvement in trading straw looked to be a useful development that has, so far, not amounted to much – but Andrew Baxter is confident of the future for these regional organisations.

"They no doubt suffered a bit over recent years when farmers were able to invest in their own machinery and concentrate on getting their own work done first rather than looking for alternative income from the ring," he comments. "But things are changing again and machinery rings, as well as contractors, will be much in demand in the years to come." &#42

Lincs contractors Andrew (right) and Adrian Baxter: Membership of their local machinery ring may not have brought a flood of new work, but it does offer numerous financial and management benefits, they say.