Fancy saving £30,000 on your next combine? That’s what one Kent farming family did by buying one from Germany.
For any arable or mixed farmer, that hulking great combine currently overwintering in the barn is a frighteningly expensive piece of kit.
But cutting the cost of harvesting isn’t easy. If you hang on to your combine for too many years it gets unreliable and starts to feast on new parts.
However if you buy a new one too often you’ll give your bank manager the collywobbles.
So, in these straitened times, is there another way of cutting the cost of combining? One farming family reckons it’s found a way to have a new combine at a somewhat lower cost by buying from abroad.
Steve Jones, his wife Joanne and sons Trevor and Jos farm at Harvel House Farm, near Meopham, Kent. They’ve been farming here since 1976 and before that in Wales.
They are classic mixed farmers, with 400 acres of combinable crops, 110 Sussex cattle, 350 breeding ewes and 100 pigs, plus a busy farm shop selling meat, pies and cakes.
Doing the research
The farm’s 13-year-old Massey Ferguson 34 combine was in need of replacement and they were keen to buy new, however the UK cost was just too much for their budget.
So they took to the internet and, after some exhaustive googling, found an almost-new Fendt 5255L with 220hp engine, 18ft cut and just 175 hours on the clock.
The colour scheme might be unfamiliar to UK eyes, but it’s essentially the same machine as an MF7345.
The combine in question, meanwhile, was currently residing 500 miles away at Fendt dealer Raiffeisen Technik near Bremen, north-west Germany.
“With the exchange rate weak, we could see the price was a good one. In fact it was nearly 20% cheaper than in the UK,” says Trevor.
“We spoke to the local MF dealer, Agwoods, and he said he couldn’t match the price. He said go for it and he’d be happy to do the servicing.”
Making contact with the German dealer
First, though, they had to get in touch with the German dealer.
“We rang the number on the ad and said ‘Do you speak English? Is the combine still there?’ They said it was, so we had jumped the first obstacle.”
“Language difficulties were potentially a big worry,” adds Jos.
“But we found that we could use Google Translate both for speech and text. So we could instantly translate any German documents into English.”
“The same was true of speech – the German guys could talk to us on the phone and we could use Google’s voice translation to instantly translate what was coming over the phone.”
“It was so effective, the German dealer thought we were German too.”
Heading off to Germany
However, there’s no substitute for actually seeing the machine in the flesh, so Jos and Trevor flew to Hamburg ready to pick up their BMW hire car and head off to the dealer. However the car hire firm had run out of BMWs so they pulled on to the dealer’s forecourt in a not-quite-so-impressive MINI.
“It wasn’t quite the impression we wanted to give – we must have looked like a couple of holidaymakers,” says Trevor.
The combine, however, looked the part, with gleaming panels, half a tank of diesel and a rape extension.
Getting the combine back to Britain
So far, so good. The next step was to truck the machine from Germany to the UK, a task they were hoping could be done by June ready for harvest. Fortunately, though shod on wide 800 tyres, the MF5255 is relatively narrow and measures a fully-legal 3.5m from tyre-edge to tyre-edge.
Transporting a combine on a truck from northern Germany to the UK isn’t something most farmers would want to get involved with, though.
The answer was to get in a professional, in this case Philip Judge from Philip Judge Transport at Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. He’s been carting bales, horses, cattle and oversized machinery around Europe for 20 years, so he knows what he’s doing.
He got hold of the relevant permits for travelling through Germany with a 4.3m-high load (it’s less strict in France and Belgium). However he couldn’t go via Hamburg because the bridges were too low and had to take the ferry across the River Elbe ferry instead.
The extra weight on the side of the combine that supports the discharge auger also meant that a chain had to be fitted to keep the whole thing level.
Not just that, but during the loading of the combine the header caught the truck trailer’s outriggers, pulled the truck’s wiring out, and extinguished all the lights. Total cost of the transport, incidentally, was £3,200.
Back in the UK
The combine arrived at Kent on 11 June and everything was ready for the first triumphant bit of combining with the new machine. However, as so often happens in farming, fate has other ideas…
“I started the first round of the field and then I hit a piece of concrete about the size of a human head that someone had dumped in the headland,” says Jos.
“It knackered the table auger, but the German dealer put another one in a big van and drove it to the UK and we had it by the next day.”
Would they do it again?
“OK, I appreciate that it takes a bit of guts to do what we did,” says Trevor. “However we really enjoyed the project and all the people involved were very helpful. We’d do it again.”
Steve has one final bit of advice for potential DIY combine importers: “If you’re buying from the Germans, they love English beer. The boys took some out and it certainly oiled the wheels. There was a case of German beer in the cab of the combine when we picked it up, too.”
Buying machinery abroad has gone on at a low level for many years. However, it isn’t for everyone – there’s a certain amount of bureaucracy involved, and buyers should weigh up the bonus of local dealer support.
“There may be some attractive deals on foreign websites, but we would always say to farmers come to us first,” says Wes Crawford from Essex and Kent dealers Crawfords, which sells MF, Valtra, Challenger and Fendt equipment.
“Well-maintained machinery is vital to the smooth running and profitability of farms.
“Our new combines have up to five years’ warranty and we can offer customers a good service and fixed costs.
For the Joneses, buying their German combine involved:
- Registering the combine with the DVLA, which cost £55 and meant filling in a long form.
- Obtaining a Certificate of Conformity (not the copy in the handbook); the German dealer handled this.
- Turning a couple of screws in the headlights to change them to left-hand dip.
- Financing, which came from Rob Butler UK in East Grinstead. The Joneses were able to buy the combine in euros and pay the finance in sterling. Mr Butler was also able to get a better exchange rate, which saved £300.
- Obtaining a number plate (plus a £44 handrail that the German dealer didn’t have in stock) – this is compulsory, but on the plus side there is no export VAT to pay.