5 February 1999

Striking umbilical chord…

Investing heavily in an

umbilical slurry spreading

system four years ago is

paying dividends for

Cumbrian Contractor

Comment brothers John and

Kevin Horsley.

Ian Marshall reports

HARSH as it may seem, the current recession in agriculture has brought a few truths home to farmers where their investment in machinery is concerned, maintains John Horsley.

"Over the last couple of years, farmers have been extravagant in their machinery purchases, buying new equipment when it was not really needed," he insists.

"But now, with prices on the floor in most sectors, they have been forced to review their machinery policies and are increasingly looking to contractors and machinery rings as a means of reducing fixed costs.

"In this area where businesses are predominantly family run mixed and dairy units, farmers are investing their capital in new dairies and parlours – not in machinery and equipment, which is not used all the year round."

As an example of this change in priorities, Mr Horsley points to the growth in demand for the umbilical slurry spreading service he offers.

"Four years ago we took the view umbilical spreading was the way forward with slurry disposal and invested about £60,000 in a system," he says.

"In the first season we handled only 10 farms as there was initial customer resistance to the cost of the service – we charge £30/hr to set the system up and break it down and £50/hr for pumping, against £16/hr with a tanker.

"We now spread more than 10m gallons from 50 farms, on a regular basis, and the service is booked up until February."

The system comprises a tractor driven pump at the store which pushes slurry out to the field, through up to 1400m (4667ft) of flexible pipe. Dispersal is by a tractor mounted twin head spreader.

Mr Horsley believes the main reasons behind the acceptance of the system are speed of application and minimal soil damage.

"Set up time is only an hour – so is breaking down – then we are spreading continuously at 25,000-30,000 gallons/hr, depending on the distance from the store and the viscosity of the slurry.

"There is no unproductive time involved in running to and from the farm, so emptying a 150,000 gallon store takes only a day, with minimal soil damage or compaction as there in only the tractor in the field and it runs on flotation tyres."

Minimal downtime is also critical to the other services the Horsleys offer and, as a result of the winters review of the machinery, there will be some new equipment on the fleet this season.

"We must have tackle we can rely on, so we change it when it still has some work left in it, and has a residual value," says Mr Horsley.

This year it is the turn of the forage equipment, which sees a secondhand six-row maize header for the 330hp Claas Jaguar 820 forage harvester.

"Our maize acreage has gone up from 178-243ha (440-600 acres) and it is going to get bigger, so we need the extra capacity," he says.

The trailer fleet is due for a shake up, with three 10 tonners being replaced with a similar number of equal capacity, and it is down the road for the three year old Krone KS 6.20-6 Duo rake.

"It has handled about 2226ha (5500 acres) of grass a season and we have been very pleased with it – we will probably replace it with a similar model."

This equipment joins last autumns purchases, which included a 150hp JCB Fastrac 3155.

The successor to a Fastrac 155-65, one of its main duties will be powering a Kuhn 2.8m front/3m rear (9ft 3in/10ft) mower conditioner combination.

And the Horsley cheque book is not yet completely closed. "The sprayer has to be updated and may be replaced with a 2500-litre self-propelled," says Mr Horsley.

Virtually all the Horsleys slurry-spreading work is now done with done their umbilical system. Inset: John Horsley: "In this area, certainly, farmers are investing their capital in new dairies and parlours – not in machinery and equipment, which is not used all the year round."

HORSLEYFACTS

&#8226 Base: Old Junction Yard, Abbeytown, Carlisle, Cumbria (01697-361762).

&#8226 Work undertaken: All arable operations; grass, maize and whole crop silage; lime spreading; umbilical slurry spreading; hedge cutting.

&#8226 Machinery fleet: Eight tractors – mix of Deere and New Holland plus one JCB Fastrac. Two Claas self-propelled forage harvesters. Four Claas combines. Three 3m (10ft) power harrow/drill combinations. Two mounted sprayers, 5.8m (19ft) mower conditioner combination.

&#8226 Labour: John Kevin and Steven Horsley; three full-time staff and extra casuals during peak periods.