Creating big kit for cultivations

Chris Smith has to admit that he loves big kit, the more acre-hungry, then so much the better.

Trucks were his first passion and he was truly gutted when he parked up his Scania 580 artic – a truck he’d travelled Europe in – for the last time when the haulier he drove for went bust.

Not to be overcome by this setback, he went back to farming and worked for a local contractor in the Vale of York.

That was in November 2003, and by December of the same year he had set out on his own.

He now runs what is in many ways a unique business, with time divided between relief driving – anything from an artic truck to a combine – and working his own agricultural kit.Chris Smith 3

Selling two older tractors of vintage standards – a MuirHill 141 and a Ford County – allowed him to purchase his first modern tractor.

He bought a John Deere 8210 and set about offering a contracting service in the form of man and tractor for hire, and since then he has grown his business significantly.

“I’d been involved in farming since a young age and my dad managed a farm.

When the trucking stopped I went back to that and working for a local chap really gave me the incentive to start out on my own,” says Mr Smith.

Mr Smith now works for a few local contractors as a relief driver and also runs his own kit, primarily a 295hp John Deere 8520 with an innovative cultivation train which is his pride and joy second to his tractor.

“The cultivation train has been developed over the past two years and it really got started at Cereals 2005 when I saw a cultivator on the Sumo stand there,” he says.

The cultivator in question is a 3m Trio, a machine with six sub-soiler legs, two rows of angled discs, a press and, unusually, a three-point linkage to mount a drill on.

“I saw the unit and started thinking about building a one-pass, min-till establishment regime around it,” he enthuses.

“Sumo had received little or no interest in the trailed machine, instead they were shifting mounted versions of the same unit, so it was sat in a shed with all the kit stripped from it.

It was only a frame when I saw it again,” says Mr Smith.

Taking this 3m trailed machine, Mr Smith fitted an Opico air seeder and sourced a set of front-mounted Kongskilde terra discs, trialling the unit for oilseed rape establishment.

“The results are first class, we can establish OSR for about £59/ha (£24/acre),” he says.

A few alterations have been made since last season and Mr Smith has added an Amazone box drill behind the unit for drilling wheat and barley.

“The Opico air seeder is fine for OSR, but you cannot put in tramlines.

In wheat I use it to apply slug pellets as I drill,” he adds.

It can also be used to under-sow grass if customers wish.

In total the rig – including the tractor – is 14m (45ft) long and cost Mr Smith at a staggering £97,000.

“I really feel that this year the kit will come into its own, as moisture retention will be vital in crop establishment,” he says.

Running costs are closely monitored and Mr Smith says that wearing metal accounts for £3.75/ha (£1.52/acre), not including disc replacement.

“When I replace the discs I will have a better idea of what the running costs are, but fuel use was about 4.5gal/ha (1.85gal/acre) last season,” he adds.

That puts his fuel costs at about £7.90/ha (£3.20/acre) based on a price of 38p/litre for fuel.

“This season we will try to grow the acreage we cover with the equipment, I reckon about 1100ha (2500 acres) is our limit on OSR establishment, but we are looking to do a lot more cereal drilling this year.”