9 June 1995

Trouble-free season

This week our "Contractors comment" series returns to the south-east, where G BElliott has recently completed first-cut silage.

Andrew Faulkner reports

THE easiest first-cut campaign for 25 years, is how Sussex-based contractor Graeme Elliott sees the 1995 silaging season – so far.

No major mechanical breakdowns, favourable weather and consistent grass yields mean the firms Reco Mammut self-propelled foragers progress has been rapid, with 90% of the contracted 730ha (1800 acres) of first-cut in the clamp by the end of May.

The end result may have been good, but the seasons start was less promising. The Taarup front-mounted/rear-trailed mowing combination took its first bite on May 2, but only a week later most customers had lost interest.

Mr Elliott explains: "Unlike other regions, our grass yields on the moisture-retentive Weald clay have only been down about 10% on an average year; the Italian ryegrass, in particular, has still yielded well. But in the cold second week of May grass stopped growing and several customers decided they would leave the crop to bulk up."

The week off did have its upside, enabling staff to put right minor machinery niggles. The new 3.2m (10ft 6in) Taarup Auto-swather 388 trailed mower, which is combined with a 2.8m (9ft 2in) front-mounted mower on a 125hp Case IH 5150 tractor, had initially left stripes; deflector boards and modified cutting blades from Kverneland were the cure.

Other problems included the Mammut foragers auto-sharpening device developing a tendency to be more aggressive in some areas than others. Mengeles importer, Reco, made the necessary modification.

"The season has been remarkably problem-free. Mechanical breakdowns probably only lost us about half a day."

Mr Elliott concedes he is still learning how to get the best out of his 356hp forager. Until two years ago he was a committed trailed forager enthusiast, and still retains a trailed Mengele SH40 as back-up. Moving to a self-propelled was prompted by increasing interest in forage maize; the Mammut now chops an annual 400ha (1000 acres) of the cobbed crop.

"If maize was to fall out of favour, we would probably return to a trailed forager system. A self-propelleds capital cost – over £100,000 – certainly cant be justified on grass alone," Mr Elliott explains.

Following the Mammuts arrival in 1994, Mr Elliott has upgraded the silaging fleet to cope with the machines 40ha/day+ (100-acre/day+) potential output. As well as buying a wider trailed mower for the combination cutting outfit, the firms 8t trailers have been replaced by three 11t Warwick models. He sub-contracts out the tedding and raking operations to neighbouring contractor Bill Hayward.

The three bigger trailers, costing about £6000 each, have proven capable of matching the ferrying capacity of five 8t models, but with lower hauling tractor/man costs and less tipping down time for the JCB wheeled loader at the clamp.

Such capital investment is no low cost operation, and Mr Elliott makes no apology for being one of the more expensive contractors in the area.

"We have over £100,000 tied up in the forager, more than £50,000 in the mowing outfit and almost £20,000 in the trailers. You have to charge a realistic rate to get that money back," he says.

"There are other contractors about, running older gear and charging less. However, older equipment must mean reduced reliability."

Mr Elliott has a standard total charge for each operation, which forms the basis of his final rate rather than being the norm. Most farmers still add at least one operation to the gang, running their own mower for example, which reduces the final charge. Average rate is about £100/ha (£40/acre).n

&#8226 Work undertaken: All arable operations, forage harvesting maize and grass, and round/medium square baling of silage and straw.

&#8226 Main machinery: Eight Case IH tractors (100-155hp), four combine harvesters, Reco Mengele 6800 Mammut self-propelled forage harvester, JCB 412 wheeled loader and Matbro Teleram telescopic handler.

&#8226 Labour: Seven machine operators and two stockmen. All self-employed.

Unlike many other regions, the heavy Sussex Weald clay has still returned reasonable grass yields this year. The Elliotts Reco Mammut forager has just completed 730ha (1800 acres) of first-cut silage.