What’s in your shed? Sisters Lorraine and Jilly Bennion and operations managers Simon Rutter and Mark Hollinshead give us a tour around Cheshire contracting operation – L&J Bennion.
How loyal are you to individual brands?
We ran New Hollands until the late 1990s and we’ve been predominately John Deere since. We’ve got a couple of Massey Fergusons and there’s still a token New Holland 7840 that’s attached to the hedgecutter most of the time.
We’ve got a few good dealers on our doorstep, but we deal mainly with Agricultural Machinery at Nantwich. All the Deeres come from there and their service is top-notch. We also deal with John Bownes at Winsford quite a bit and our foragers come from Morris Corfield at Dutton.
Favourite piece of kit?
Mark: Definitely our new Jaguar 870 forager. It’s a lot quieter than the 890 we had before and seems to go a bit better, too. We’re running it with an 8-row Kemper maize header, a Claas 300 grass pickup and a Direct Disc 520 whole crop header.
Least favourite piece of kit?
Simon: The kit is all pretty good these days – we’ve culled most of the stuff we didn’t like.
We’ve just ordered three new Richard Western Delilah 2100s rear-discharge spreaders to replace some of the old D10s. We’ve opted for mudguards and a sprung drawbar this time to make the ride a bit smoother.
Oldest machine at work?
Our six 20-year-old Dowdeswell dual spreaders. They’ve worked flat out during that time and if one of them breaks down we’ve got plenty of others we can hook up. They’ve been amazingly tough, but we do give them a thorough going over every now and again.
How long do you keep your machines?
Lorraine: Most machines stay on the fleet until we get fed up with them breaking down too much. Our highest-houred tractor is a 2007 John Deere 6930 with 11,300 hours on the clock. We don’t tend to worry about hours, but we keep them well maintained and do most of the work ourselves. We used to buy machines in bulk and now we’re finding everything needs replacing at once. Now we’re trying to stagger purchases so we don’t have to fork out such large lumps of cash.
Next on your wishlist?
Simon: A McHale Fusion. I’m getting fed up sending two men and machines out to do a baling and wrapping job so I thought I’d try one out. We’ve got a demo machine coming and if it performs like we hope it will we might take the plunge.
Most embarrassing machinery mistake?
Simon: Taking a brand new mower out for the first time and destroying it on a manhole cover. It wasn’t pretty.
Mark: I once had a Tanco wrapper pop off the back of the tractor and demolish a parked car. The funny thing was the police let me off and did the owner for having bald tyres. I also had an incident when the local vicar got his car wedged under the forager header.
Most awkward grease nipple?
Mark: The rear roller on the Guttler Greenmaster. You can see ‘em, but there’s no way you’re ever going to get a grease gun on ‘em.
What couldn’t you live without in the workshop?
Joe – he’s seriously good at welding and stitches most of the stuff we’ve smashed back together. He also handles a lot of the day-to-day maintenance and does some fabrication too.
Do you buy second-hand?
We almost always buy tractors with a few hours on the clock. The last purchase was a 6930 on 2,100 hours that had been owned by another contractor.
Mark: Ploughing is definitely the job I like best. It’s quiet and peaceful compared to thrashing around on the forager and it’s satisfying when you do a decent job.
Simon: It’s mowing for me – if it’s going well you can cover some ground and it feels like you’re getting some serious work under your belt.
Least favourite job?
Simon: Small square baling – it’s far too slow and very tedious
Mark: Sitting on the tractor slurry pumping – it’s a dirty horrible stinking job and it’s slow.
We’ve got a 2011 Land Rover Defender 90. We’ve stuck with Land Rovers since we got rid of our G-reg Nissan pickup and we’ve been pretty pleased with them.
Best tractor you’ve ever had?
We’ve had a few good tractors, but the one that sticks in mind is our John Deere 6800. It was the first green tractor we had and the only major expense was a set of new tyres. We put 8,000 hours on the clock before trading it in.
Worst tractor you’ve ever had?
We had a New Holland TM190 that was a complete dog. The cab mountings snapped, it melted its diesel tank and the fuel pump fell off four times. We also had to recalibrate the gearbox every morning to get it to go. On the plus side, the power was unreal.
Biggest machinery bargain?
A nearly new six-furrow Kverneland plough that had been an insurance write-off. It only needed a junction box and cross shaft, but we managed to pick it up for £1,500. The list price at the time was £18,000.
We call it the Discbok and it’s the love child of a set of Amazone Catros Discs and an Einbock grass seeder. We built it to plant grass, stubble turnips and mustard where there was too much trash for the Guttler. The Guttler only works on really clean ground.
What would you buy if you won the lottery?
Jilly: I’d pay off the machinery on hire purchase and update some of the kit. Outside of contracting, I’d love to do more travelling so an around the world trip is what I’d treat myself to.
Any machinery toys/classics?
Lorraine: Dad was a bit of collector so we could probably open a museum with the number of classics we’ve got knocking around. Most are David Browns, but we’ve got a couple of Fordson Majors with six-cylinder conversions. The only ones in daily use are the Case-branded 1494, David Brown 1390 and the red Case International with a 1294 sticker.
Jilly: When Dad bought a new item of machinery he would sometimes get given the toy to match (Britain’s or Universal Hobbies)
There’s a wardrobe full upstairs. We weren’t allowed to play with them as kids because he told us they were worth more in the box.
L&J Bennion, Blue Slates Farm, Middlewich, Cheshire
Sisters Lorraine and Jilly Bennion took over the family contracting business after their father Alan died in 2012. Between them they look after customers and manage their eight-strong team with the help of operations managers Simon Rutter and Mark Hollinshead.
24ha family farm growing maize, grass, and barley for their 100-head Blonde and Angus beef herd.
- Combining: 323ha
- Ploughing, cultivations and drilling: 607ha
- Foraging: 2,428ha grass, 242ha maize, 202ha wholecrop
- Baling: 30,000 big square bales, 10,000 4ft round bales
- Other: Crimping, hedge cutting, slurry pumping and stirring, grass seeding
- Staff: Lorraine, Jilly, Mark, Simon and eight other self-employed drivers
In the shed
- John Deere 6430, 6520, 6630, three 6930s, 7430, 7710.
- Massey Ferguson 6485 and 6475
- New Holland 7840
- Telehandler: JCB 531-70
- Combine: Claas Lexion 530
- Forager: 2013 Claas Jaguar 860
- Drills: Norsden 3m box drill, Kuhn Integra 3m box drill, two 6-row maize drills, 8-row, diamond maize drill, three Einbock grass seeders
- Powerharrows: Five Kuhn 3m, Howard 3m
- Ploughs: Four Kverneland, two Lemken
- Sprayer: 12m Hardi mounted
- Square balers: Two Claas Marcant 65 conventional balers, New Holland – BB940, BB9060, BB950, Lely Welger D4000.
- Round balers: Three John Deere 578
- Muckspreaders: Four Richard Western D10s (three just being upgraded to D2100s), Six Dowdeswell Dual spreaders
- Mowers: Three John Deere 1365 trailed mowers, Three John Deere 228 front mowers
- Tedders: Three Claas Volto 770, Two Kuhn GF7601
- Rakes: Two Claas 880, Claas 2900, Claas 2800.
- Trailers: Seven Richard Western silage trailers, 10t Marshall grain trailer, 10t Weeks grain trailer, six Marshall bale trailers
- Other: Korte Crimper, two Kverneland wrappers, two Major slurry tankers, three McConnel Shakaerators, three Econ hedge cutters, two McConnel rotavators, four Standen rotavators