Machinery decisions boost workrates and streamline operations

A new combine, rollers and fuel bowser have been bought to improve efficiency and cope with increasing workloads.

The most recent purchase is a new full spec John Deere C670 combine with GPS steering, yield mapping and Harvest Smart feed rate control. This maintains a consistent feed rate by changing ground speed to compensate for variations in the crop.

Other options had been to contract-in spare capacity from neighbouring farms or to hire.

“Buying wasn’t really in the plan, we were going to hire a combine but when we worked out the cost per acre over five years, the bought one came in at £26.67/acre against hiring at £34.13/acre,” says owner Adam Metcalfe. “We got a very good price with a 0% finance deal over five years.”

A pre-harvest review of workload showed that the 6.3m rollers might struggle to cope so a set of 12.3m rollers has been added to the fleet.

Manager Andrew Yarrow is very keen to get the best deal on everything. In the case of the rollers, it took a few phone calls to establish a £500 saving on the price of the new rollers plus a £900 better sale price for the old kit than was being offered on a trade-in basis, leaving the business £1,400 better off overall compared with a trade-in.

He has also spent a lot of time looking at the overall cost to the business of wearing metal parts for cultivation equipment including two ploughs, a combination drill, conventional drill and three Vaderstad cultivators.

This is partly to get a handle on costs, partly to look at the options for replacements and partly to avoid having to spend time on this on a one-off basis at peak times.

“I’ve priced genuine and non-genuine parts for what we’re likely to need and there’s roughly a 30% difference, with genuine parts costing about £12,000 but it’s a question of whether we risk the non-genuine parts.

“So we will probably use a mixture of both and we’re going to trial cultivation discs on the drill using genuine on one side and non-genuine on the other. We’ll probably do the same with a plough and see how they measure up.”

As well as the combine and rollers, a second 1,000-litre fuel bowser has been bought to service the large arable and contracting operation.

The business used 65,300 litres of red diesel between 1 and 25 August and buys part of its fuel requirement on a forward-priced basis through Oil NRG, a local supplier based at Stokesley. For example, Adam fixed the price of 100,000 litres at 67.57p/litre back in early July and must take up this quantity at this price by the end of October.

While it is frustrating that the market has fallen since this price was set, Adam is philosophical about this, valuing an element of certainty.

“The price was right at the time I fixed it; we had 70p/litre in the budget. This is the fourth year I have done this and we’ve been right twice and wrong twice,” he says.

Harvest has gone smoothly so far with just one combine breakdown and oilseed rape drilling began on 20 August, with 61ha (150 acres) completed so far going into good conditions.

Most of the wheat has been cut on the contract land and AWSM’s own wheat cut so far has averaged 9.21t/ha (3.73t/acre) against a budget of 8.9t/ha (3.6t/acre). Winter barley averaged 6.4t/ha (2.59t/acre) against a 6.8t/ha (2.75t/acre) budget, including one poor farm that was badly affected by frost lift, which brought the average down significantly.

Conventional oilseed rape was budgeted to do 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre) and has turned out 5.5t/ha (2.23t/acre) while the HEAR rape has produced 4.6t/ha (1.87t/acre) against a 3t/ha (1.25t/acre) budget.

No crop sales have been made since the last visit but Adam is watching the market closely after the recent rises. “The plan is to put it all the wheat in store now but if it gets to £180/t I will sell.”

There is 103ha (255 acres) of spring barley to harvest which is sold on a feed price based contract with a £40/t premium if it makes malting quality.

The new dryer coped well with the winter barley and romped through its first lot of wheat but has not yet had a serious test, says Adam.

Three Irish staff have been taken on after applying on spec for harvest work. “It was a bit of a risk as we didn’t know anything about them but they are experienced and are working very well,” says Adam. For the first time he has hired in Bunkabin accommodation for which the men pay £10 each a night.

The business has 14 regular staff and a similar number of casuals and part timers. Management responsibility at this time of year is split so that on a day-to-day basis, Adam oversees combining, baling and slurry injection while Andrew manages crop establishment and muckspreading.

AWSM Farms needs the equivalent of almost 700t of 34.5% nitrogen a year and all but 200t of this has been bought in a combination of 114t of Polish AN at £295/t delivered, 115t of urea at £280/t and 1,000 tons of ammonium sulphate from local supplier Rootwise, for which the business also does a lot of contract spreading.

Bought in P and K requirements are minimal as much of this is covered by using composted material.

For the third year running, the business exhibited at the Great Yorkshire Show. The stand cost, at about £350, often surprises people. “People think it will be far more than this, says Adam. “However, by the time you take into account the cost of staff time in setting up and working at the show, as well as accommodation, the total cost is probably close to £2,000.”

“We saw a lot of existing customers and picked up a handful of useful new contacts.”

Looking forward to the autumn, Adam will be making plans for a permanent office block at Lanehead Farm. He hopes to have this completed in time for harvest 2012. Office accommodation for Adam, Andrew and admin staff Kim Usher, Kristy Blackbrough and Amanda Watson is currently in Portakabin-type units. Other autumn jobs include the annual insurance review, the first one since a move to a new insurer last year.

About half of the farm’s lambs have finished and been sold for an average of £74.08 a head against a budget of £55. This year’s lambing produced 1.69 lambs sold per ewe on figures so far. A change in policy this season means they are being bought on a liveweight basis but going direct to the abattoir through Darlington Farmers’ Auction Mart Company. “This way we know what price we’re getting before they go.”

Shepherd Graham Wood has bought 345 replacement shearlings for £137 a head. These are made up of 245 replacements which would normally be needed as well as a 100-head expansion of the lambing flock.




management matters: AWSM Farms