How to find the best input deals with machinery rings

When Pembrokeshire arable growers Charles and Tom Rees need herbicides, fuel or seed, they don’t spend hours hunting for the best products and deals – the Pembrokeshire Machinery Ring (PMR) does the legwork for them.

Charles was a founding member of PMR, using it to source machinery and operators at key times.

Machinery now accounts for just 3% of their dealings with PMR, as their business and the ring have both evolved.

See also: Focus on labour and machinery costs, dairy farms urged

Straw, fuel, agronomy inputs

The Reeses now have a policy of owning most of the kit they need for their 283ha arable and livestock business at Dudswell Farm, near Haverfordwest, but the ring meets a large number of their other business requirements – from purchasing agronomy inputs to selling their straw.

“We have trimmed 35% off our crop health costs by doing our own agronomy and purchasing the chemicals we need through PMR,” Tom calculates.

“We buy all our fuel through the ring too. It could come from one of several suppliers, whoever the ring has negotiated the best deal with.

“We leave all of that to them – it probably saves us a day every month.”

The farm still hires in the occasional machine and driver when there are time or weather pressures during harvest.

PMR takes care of all the invoicing, running a direct debit system for services and goods supplied.

“We never get involved in invoicing for the straw we sell or the machinery work we do – we just send the ring an email including the work we have done and they sort out the rest.’’

Machinery rings explained

Q. What is a machinery ring?

A. It is member-owned and operates on a not-for-profit basis, meaning any trading surplus generated is either retained or re-invested, not distributed to shareholders. 

Rings act as a low-cost administration hub to help and enable members to share machinery and labour, trade commodities, access services and purchase inputs.

In fact, they can help members formalise any collaborative working arrangements.

Q. Can anyone join?

A. Yes, although most services are suited to active farms and allied rural businesses. 

Q. How do you set one up?

A. There needs to be a firm commitment from a number of producers, instigated by a grassroots desire for a ring and initiated by the producers themselves.

Q. What are the associated costs?

A. Mainly staffing, so costs are relatively linear to membership and turnover.  

Q. How does the insurance cover work?

A. Every supplier must be fully insured to cover contracting work and public liability.  Every demander must be fully insured to cover personal accident or injury that occurs while the work is being done on a farm.

Q. What commons problems can arise?

A. A member might get delayed on another job, or there may be issues with fuel deliveries. But these instances are rare because rings always have alternative supply options.

Occasionally equipment gets damaged, but there are stringent insurance requirements for resolving these issues.

There may be disputes or disagreements between ring members concerning goods traded or services supplied. The ring manager or administrator will normally act as mediator or adjudicator in such disputes.

Q. Is fuel and labour commonly provided or is this an add-on?

A. For many rings, labour is a core service and is often one of the main reasons for its establishment. Fuel was initially an add-on service – a way of adding value to the membership fee – but nowadays some rings trade more in fuel than in machinery services. 

Q. Should someone be employed to oversee the ring or can it easily be done between farmers/suppliers?

A. While many informal working collaborations already exist between producers, a ring puts these collaborations on a formal footing, improving their sustainability and longevity. 

Q. How many exist in the UK and are they becoming more popular?

A. There are 16. Their roles have evolved since their inception in the early 1990s, and while there is still some association with the word “machinery”, rings are now about much more than that.

There is renewed interest in membership from individuals who have no interest in sharing machinery, but who want access to the other services.

Q. How do I know if there is a ring operating in my area?

A. Visit the Machinery Rings Association website (England & Wales) or Scottish Machinery Rings website (Scotland).