Farmer Focus: Contract hiring a tractor for first time

I am feeling in a much better place than I have been for a number of months, finally being caught up. After a marathon effort we got a vastly increased spring cereal area into the ground in some surprisingly good conditions. I now look forward to what seems likely to be a later-than-normal harvest workload.

As luck would have it, youngest son managed to get back from New Zealand just as the coronavirus restrictions started to take hold and we were really getting going. Thinking it unwise for him to mix with others for a while, he got landed with the night shift. After all, his body clock was still on New Zealand time, which suited us all fine.

See also: Top tips on managing late disease in potatoes after diquat

Potato planting has proceeded apace, again into good conditions. Despite it appearing dry we are finding enough moisture at depth which has resulted in prompt and timely emergence.

Our pre-emergence herbicide programme remains largely unchanged although we are getting used to managing without diquat. I feel the greater learning opportunity will be when we come to haulm management later in the season.

I have access to an impressive haulm topping outfit through a local contractor, but I feel the cost will be considerably more than simply spraying a desiccant.

We have just added an additional tractor to the fleet, but in a different way. We have tended to buy in a fairly traditional way, but this is our first contract hire. I am keen to see how this compares with our usual route, given that we now have a relatively fixed cost per hour for maintenance, repairs and depreciation.

Having done the sums I felt that there is no right or wrong, cheaper or dearer way. It is more about what you want to achieve.

Depreciation costs are significant for our business and they are hard to calculate with any degree of certainty. The contract hire route does at least give some cost clarity right from the start, which will aid budgeting.

I am also pleased to see the fall in the price of fuel. Normally when we get to a busy period it seems to increase. We are unable to stockpile as we only have our regular tanks, but it is a small positive benefit.