What’s in Your Shed? visits a mixed farm in Devon

This time What’s in your Shed sees Devon farmer Richard Cross pick out the best and worst of his machinery fleet.

Oliver Mark asks the questions about favourite kit, oldest machines, what’s on the wish list, and more.

See also: Take a trip around the UK with our What’s in Your Shed? map

Farm Facts: Huntsham Barton, Huntsham, Tiverton, Devon

  • Farmed area: 345ha
  • Cropping: 270ha grass, 36ha oats, 36ha barley
  • Livestock: 120 suckler cows, 70 ewes
  • Staff: Richard full-time, son Robbie part-time

How did you get started?

My father took on the 121ha dairy farm in 1967. Once I finished college I bought some machinery and started contracting and we gradually grew the home farm to the 345ha it is today. We’re unlikely to get much bigger, though – we’ve got enough to do already.

How brand-loyal are you?

I don’t really stick to any particular brand – it’s more important that I don’t have to travel too far for spare parts.

We ran Fords in the early years, swung to Deeres during the 40- and 50-series phase, and have also dabbled with Masseys more recently.

I had a Claas Arion on demo last year, but ended up buying the Massey 6470 instead – I quite like the MF tractors because they’ve got a smaller door and rear quarter windows that open to save fogging up during the winter.

Richard Cross

Richard Cross

Favourite dealer?

All the main tractor dealers are helpful and, more importantly, within half-an-hour’s drive from the farm.

For the combine spares I use Rodney Cowle who is west of here, Coles Combines at Shaftesbury or Combine Fabrications in Newark for reconditioned sieves.

In the shed

  • Tractors: MF 6470 with Chilton loader, 6465 and 35, Ford 8340, 7740, 7600 and 4600
  • Combines: MF 31 XP, New Holland 8050
  • Sprayers and spreaders: GEM trailed with 21m booms, Blaney 3m weed wiper, Lely Superbowl fertiliser spreader
  • Grassland: Lely 280MC mower conditioner, Lely 6-star tedder, Lely Rotund, Claas Variant 365 baler, Major 8ft topper
  • Drills: Amazone RPA-D 3m combi, home-made 3m drill
  • Cultivation equipment: Överum 4F Plough, Opico Varidisc, Eddlington 6m rolls
  • Digger: JCB 8050

Favourite piece of kit?

I’ll happily work with most machines, provided they’re reliable. I always used to enjoy foraging with our Mengele SH25, but the Deere 3050 we ran in front of it was too powerful.

We’d tweaked it up to 125hp (originally closer to 90hp), which meant we had the power, but the header and feed rollers would block up at the first sign of a lump.

Least favourite?

It has to be the plough – it’s slow, tedious and the finished product is a bumpy field. I’ve always thought it’s such a laborious way to get a crop sown.

We haven’t ploughed regularly since the 1990s when we invested in a set of Opico Vari-Discs. Almost immediately the ground was much firmer for getting on the fields to spray herbicides in the autumn and fertiliser in the spring, and smoother to collect bales at harvest.

We’ve still got a four-furrow Överum, but it only gets a run out once a season – usually after muckspreading.

Massey Ferguson 6465

Massey Ferguson 6465

Oldest working machine?

We rely on a few old-timers, including an old Massey 35X that runs the log splitter. My father bought it new when he was working at a Somerset farm back in 1966 and, when that farm came to sell it 12 years ago, we bought it for £1,000. It still runs, but could do with a proper refurbishment.

We’ve also got an old 8ft MF chisel plough from the 1970s, which is out every spring to rip up the stubbles.

How long do you keep them?

It depends on how reliable they are. The only thing I consistently change is the mower because it gets a lot of use.

I’m pretty relaxed about the tractors and some of them I probably keep longer than I should. The main tractor clocks up 800 hours/year and needs to be reasonably new as I rely on it for feeding.

What’s next on your wish list?

A gravel trailer for backfilling after drainage work. At the minute, I use a 5t JCB digger, but filling the trough is a slow old job.

New models cost about £8,000, but I might go halves on a second-hander with my neighbour. I’ve also thought about making one out of an old feeder wagon, as it’s already got the conveyor and hopper, and would be a lot cheaper than buying a ready-made one.

Most embarrassing mistake?

My father sent me off to pick up a 6t T&F silage trailer that he’d just bought (it was quite big at the time). As I was flogging it up the hill to the farm I caught a low tree and bent the back-end out of shape.

I managed to straighten it out and weld it up while my father went for a drive to cool down, but it was never quite the same.

My son Robbie has had his fair share of prangs too, including throwing a fencing stake through the tractor window and smashing the combine windscreen a couple of years ago.

Most expensive repair bill?

One of our old Ford 8340s had a major problem with its Synchro Shift gearbox. The clutch packs failed big time and it also broke some of the gears.

We sent it off to the local New Holland dealer who fixed it. I paid the £3,500 bill, drove it home and put it on a set of discs, but no more than 10 hours later it lost drive.

The same thing had happened again and, because I’d told the dealer to use a couple of second-hand parts to keep the cost down, there was no warranty or protection.

In the end, we had to flog it in non-working condition to a buyer in South Africa for £6,000 when it was worth at least £10,000.

I don’t learn, though – every 8340 I’ve had has suffered gearbox gremlins, but I still quite like them.

Homemade drill

Homemade drill

Best invention?

I’ve knocked up a few machines that have saved me a load of time, including a cow catcher with hydraulic gates that fits to the loader tractor.

But I’d say my best invention is the one-pass, strip-till drill I built last winter, which is based on an old 3m-wide Taskers Tillage Train with an Accord seeding unit mounted on top.

I’d had a Claydon drill on demo, but we found it blocked up a lot in fairly trash-free fields and came to the conclusion that it’s better off running in fields with chopped straw. So I went about making my own version, with similarly wide points to disturb strips of soil and a metering system run off a fold-down land wheel.

It was far cheaper than buying anything off-the-shelf – the old drill and tillage rig cost £1,000 and the rest of the bits were another £2,500. At some point I need to add an auger to feed the hopper so that it’s easier to fill – it’s a bit high for the tractor loader at the minute.

Best workshop tool?

Like most people, I’d come to a halt pretty quickly without cutting and welding equipment. Next on the list is a decent pillar drill or a mag drill.

Favourite/least favourite job?

I enjoy all the jobs I do, except ploughing.

Everyday transport?

It depends how far I’m travelling. I’ve got a 2001 VW Passat for nipping around locally, but it leaks a lot of oil. We also have two 51-plate Ford Rangers for farm use – one is road-worthy and the other is kitted up for carrying around fencing materials.

Best tractor?

John Deere’s 3050 – it just never went wrong. We first had a 3040 in 1985 and replaced it with the 50-series, which we kept until 1997 when it was traded in for a Ford 8340.

It had no real stand-out features, but was reliable, comfortable and quiet. I wish I’d kept it and would quite like to buy it back if it’s still in good nick.

Worst tractor?

The Ford 6610 was a gutless machine, especially without the turbo. I ran one from 1990 to 1995 and it was all right to drive, but simply couldn’t hack hard work.

Allman sprayer

Allman sprayer

Biggest machinery bargain?

Probably my 12m Allman sprayer. I bought it for £500 from a contractor in 1992 and only relegated it to back-up a couple of years ago when I picked up a 21m trailed Gem off ebay.

The other bargain has to be our 8t Richard Western silage trailer. I paid £3,500 for it new in 1995 and it’s still worth the same now.

Least favourite machine?

I just can’t get along with Amazone fertiliser spreaders. We got a brand new model in the 1990s, as the local dealer was doing a good deal on them, but all the farmers around here that bought one disliked it.

In the end, I replaced it with a more upmarket second-hand version, which was also a nightmare. The crops were stripy and I found changing the discs for border spreading a faff.

Since then we’ve had Lely Superbowls – they’ve always dished out an even spread and just tilt for border control spreading.

Any classics?

Most of the old Fords are pretty desirable now. The 7600 is quite rare these days – I paid £4,000 for it, but it’s probably worth £5,500 now.