What’s in your shed? Oxfordshire farm contractor reveals all

In the latest in our series poking around readers’ farm machinery sheds Oliver Mark visits Oxfordshire contractor Alec Wilkinson.

How loyal are you to individual brands?

We stuck with Ford tractors until 2000 when we had a brief (and unsuccessful) dabble with New Holland. After that it has been John Deeres all the way.

We’ve tried various front-line tillage tractors in the past few years, but neither the Case Magnum nor Fendt 936 has come close to competing with our John Deere 9620. The Deere’s good on fuel, too – it averages about 70-litres/hour pulling the Sumo Trio while the Fendt pulled less, used 66-litres/hour and also got through 60-litres of AdBlue each day.

See also: Read our other What’s In Your Shed features

Who is your favourite dealer and why?

We can always get hold of Richard Horne, the combine and tractor mechanic at Farol near Great Shefford, Berkshire, and he always does far more than he needs to.

The service and stores departments at Mill Engineers in Bibury, Gloucestershire, are also great. Matthew Wilders in Witney, Oxfordshire, does a great job keeping our Discoverys going, even if it’s a Sunday afternoon in the middle of harvest.

Favourite piece of kit?

I managed to buy a second-hand 6m Horsch Sprinter with a full-width packer at the front, which I’m really happy with. It does a great job firming up the ground so that the coulters run at a uniform depth and it makes the drill easier to pull, too.

Least favourite piece of kit?

A no-brainer – the Cousins Sidewinder Rolls. Even folded up they’re far too wide to be dragging along the roads and they hit every pothole going. The wheel fell off while we were towing them along the A34, too – hopefully they’ll be replaced in the next couple of years.

Cousins Sidewinder Rolls

Latest purchase? What do you think of it?

A Spearhead 460 topper arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s a great piece of kit, mainly because nothing has changed from the 2005 model we had before.

AL Wilkinson, Bowels Farm, Freeland, Witney, Oxfordshire

  • Contracting 1,435ha split across seven arable farms, all on 3-10 year contracts. Also an extra 17ha combining for a neighbour and another 60ha OSR drilling.
  • Cropping 485ha winter wheat, 285ha oilseed rape, 445ha spring barley, 120ha winter barley, 100ha spring beans.
  • Storage Various storage sites dotted around each of the farms.
  • Staff Alec, plus full-time workers Phillip and Alex. Another four help out at harvest time.
  • Other main activities 7,000-9,000t grain hauled from own farms, as well as bringing in 5,000-6,000t of compost each year. Also 300-hours of hedgecutting and 250-hours of grass topping.

Oldest piece of machinery still at work?

We still get a lot of use out of a 30-year-old Bomford Tine Cultivator. It’s 4.6m wide and runs on the 7810 in the spring – it did 240ha this year and always runs ahead of the drill on spring-sown ground that is lifted with the Sumo Trio the previous autumn.

How long do you keep your machines?

There’s no set period – anything from two weeks to 13 years. The main kit stays for as long as it is performing well, but we’re not afraid to dip in and out of the second-hand market as and when we need machinery.

What’s next on your wishlist?

I’ve already got a lot of the machinery I’ve always wanted – the V8 and 4-series Scania lorries, two 7810 Deeres and the 9620. But I would like one of the last 600TT Claas Lexions on a 10-plate. Maybe in a couple of years’ time.

Most embarrassing machinery mistake?

Buying a New Holland 8770 back in the year 2000. In total we ran three New Holland tractors between giving up the Fords and bringing in the John Deeres. The 8770 was the worst tractor I’ve ever had and I only kept it for three months. After that I bought a Deere 4755, and it went so well we soon bought the first 7810 and it just carried on from there.

Most awkward grease nipple?

Two at the rear of the rotors on the Lexion combine. It’s impossible not to get covered in dust while you’re getting at them.

What’s your best invention?

We don’t do a lot of fabrication but towing the Vaderstad Carrier behind the Sumo Trio has saved us a lot of time and money.

Varderstad carrier

What couldn’t you live without in the workshop?

Metric ratchet spanners get a lot of use. The steam cleaner probably does more hours than the tractors and the place would grind to a halt without it.

Do you buy second-hand?

About 90% of our stuff is second-hand, including all of the tractors, combines and sprayers. We’ve had a couple of new grain trailers, but more often than not we’ll buy used machinery.

Favourite/least favourite job?

Combining is my favourite, along with drilling. Least favourite is an easy one – doing paperwork on a sunny day when there are plenty of other things to do.

What’s your everyday transport?

I’ve got a commercial-spec Discovery Td5. It was a steal at £7,000 with 40,000 miles on the clock. I’ve added another 90,000 in the eight years I’ve had it.

Best tractor you’ve ever had?

The 2001-plate 7810 – it’s the most reliable tractor I’ve ever had. It can pull our seven-furrow plough, get on the subsoiler or do trailer work. It had done 3,000 hours when it arrived on the farm and it’s now up to 7,900, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever get rid of it.

Biggest machinery bargain?

Our Kverneland PB100 seven-furrow plough. Eight years ago it cost me £5,000 and it’s still in mint condition so it’s probably worth double that now. We were covering 800ha a year with it, but it’s now closer to 280ha/year depending on the blackgrass.

Biggest myth related to farm machinery?

Banks love contractors… they definitely don’t, mainly because we don’t own any land.

What would you buy if you won the lottery?

Scania lorryI’d buy all the spare parts for a 7810 and build it exactly to my spec. I’d also like to restore a 3650 John Deere one day.

Any machinery toys/classics lurking in the shed?

My favourite toy is the V8 Scania. Our two Scania lorries haul about 9,000t of our own grain off the farm and bring another 6,000t of compost in.

Kit list

  • Tractors Seven John Deere’s – 9620, 8520, 2x 7810, 7710, 7820, 7600
  • Telehandlers Three JCB 525-58, John Deere 3400
  • Combine Claas Lexion 570+TT with 9m header John Deere C670i with 25ft header
  • Sprayers Two Bateman RB25 self-propelled with 24m boom
  • Drill 6m Horsch Sprinter, 4m Kverneland combi-drill, 4.5m Sumo Trio with Stocks rape seeder
  • Cultivations 5m Vaderstad Carrier, 4.6m Simba Cultipress, 10.3m Cousins Sidewinder rolls
  • Trailers Four 14-tonners – Bailey, Western, Easterby plus one from Agri-Hire
  • Best of the rest Two Scania lorries, two Land Rover Discovery Td5s, Citroen Berlingo van, Amazone ZA-M 3001 fertiliser spreader