What’s in your workshop? Suffolk farmer Aaron Hogsbjerg opens his doors

Aaron Hogsbjerg and his father Anthony Hogsbjerg run a growing arable operation on the Suffolk/Essex border.

The home farm, rented and contracted land extends to 370ha and the machinery fleet includes a Vervaet sugar beet harvester, Lexion with Terra Tracs and three front-line Massey Ferguson tractors. Primary crops include sugar beet, wheat, spring barley and oilseed rape.

But it’s the cultivations equipment that gets the most attention in the workshop and Mr Hogsbjerg has spent the last month tinkering with old stuff and building some new machines.

Major projects over the last couple of years have included his Farm Inventions competition winning press cultivator and a home-built band sprayer currently in the making.

Farm factfile

Clarks Farm, Belchamp Walter, Suffolk

Farming: 370ha of arable – 60ha is owned, 150ha is rented and 160ha is contract farmed

Cropping: 95ha wheat, 60ha spring barley, 60ha sugar beet on owned and rented land. 105ha wheat and 55ha oilseed rape on contracted land

Staff: Aaron Hogsbjerg, Antony Hogsbjerg, Bill Gardiner

Kit list

Tractors: Massey Ferguson 8480, 7499 and 6485, John Deere 2140, Claas Axos 340

Telehandler: Cat TH62

Combine: Claas Lexion 570 Terratrac with 9m Vario header

Sugar beet harvester: Vervaet 617

Sprayer: Berthoud Racer 28m trailed also used for liquid fert

Drills: Horsch Sprinter 4ST, Monosem beet drill

Cultivations: Quivogne six-leg subsoiler toolbar with mounted Opico discs, Cousins Type 28 double press, homemade Ipress, Dowdeswell five furrow plough, Garford 6m hoe

Grain storage: 1,400t floor, 1100t concrete storage on farm, 500t off-farm

Vervaet sugar beet harvester
Caterpillar TH62 telehandler
Hogsbjerg's homemade Ipress
The farm's three MF tractors
John Deere 2140
Workshop heater

See also What’s in Your Shed series

20 questions

What’s your workshop like?

Our workshop makes up one corner of a big shed. During the autumn most of the concrete floor is taken up by grain storage, but we try and get some of it shifted by the start of winter. It means we can store some of the machinery inside and there’s also plenty of space to unfold and fabricate wider kit all in the same place with the shed doors shut.

Got a heater?

We use a Sealey gas-powered heater. This year we made a trolley to mount it all on so that we can haul it round the workshop depending on where we’re working and what we’re doing. We’ve found the blower on it is too big, though – if you’re not standing directly in line with the blowing heat then it just stirs up a cold breeze. To get around the problem we use a fan speed controller to slow the fan down.

Biggest workshop project?

So far it’s the Ipress, which we built last winter. We based the centre framework on a Cousins Type 28 double press cultivator, which we already have and use when the conditions are dry. It’s not ideal for our land, though – it’s too heavy when it’s wet and is also pretty top-heavy to tow on the road. We used all of our own tools to build it except for a mag drill, which we hired in to make sure we got our drilling spot on. We also bought a band saw just before we started, which has proven a godsend.

How does it work?

It leads with a levelling bar. Although it doesn’t work hard, it runs high enough to catch the very worst of the clods and it still has a fair bit of its paint after 325ha last autumn.

Behind that we went for five rows of standard Simba spring tines, 46 in total spaced at 100mm. We run them at about 50mm deep – the press position and spacers on the drawbar ram set the depth. One thing we’d change on the machine if we were to make another one is the tines – solid, shearbolt-protected ones would reduce down time.

We got some custom-made Tungsten points with 25deg angle tips from JJ Metcalfe, a fabricator from North Yorkshire, at a cost of £9.50-a-piece. We also brimmed the wells formed by the bolt heads with hardfacing to make sure they don’t wear.

Following the tines we put a row of hydraulic levelling flaps. These work well to even out the seedbed and each side is controlled separately to give best adjustment . On the back we went for a single press to consolidate – it reduces the weight compared to the Cousins cultivator and forms a nice ridge to take the weather and leaves it loose enough to dry out quickly – a bonus in the previous two autumns we’ve had.

Was it worthwhile?

Definitely. It gave us something to do during sugar beet lifting season– it took about eight weeks from start to finish. The total build cost us about £15,000 in materials, but even if we wanted to buy something from a mainstream manufacturer there’s nothing the same on the market.

Next workshop project?

There are a couple of jobs in the pipeline, which came about after we bought a new Claas Axos tractor a couple of months ago. We fitted a full Trimble RTK system to it, with half an eye on accurate cultivations and band spraying, so it has opened up loads of potential opportunities.

We’ve since bought a 6m Garford hoe with laser pilot for £15,000, which we’re hoping to use up to three times a year to clean the sugar beet fields of persistent weeds. It has very flat A-hoe points that cut straight through weed roots and should reduce out reliance on chemistry and cut our input costs.

We’re currently spending around £200/ha on weed control in sugar beet, but we would like to get it down to nearer £50/ha using the hoe and band sprayer. Controlling blackgrass in cereals is currently costing the farm about £100/ha in problem areas, too.

A homemade band sprayer is also on the cards. We’re planning to mount a 500-litre front tank to the chassis of the Axos to supply 12 hoods on the beet drill and the hoe.

Biggest farming bargain?

It has to be our Matrot M41 sugarbeet harvester, which we replaced last year with our Vervaet machine. We bought it for £9,000 and after four seasons’ work we sold it on for £10,500. It did go out in better knick than we bought it for, though, and we spent plenty of workshop hours looking after it.

Which are the most useful and useless tools you’ve bought?

Most useful has got to be a wheel carrier from G.R. Wheeler in Banbury. It cost about £1,000 but makes switching between row crops and duals a one-man job.

Most useless is without doubt a trio of Draper stand rollers we got when we bought our £950 Sealey bandsaw a year-and-a-half ago. They were about £20-a-piece but are absolutely useless for holding level any sort of weighty box section steel, but we’ll modify them when we get a chance.

Do you service your own kit?

Our local Massey Ferguson dealer Mark Weatherhead does most of the tractor servicing. Having a decent service history adds value to the tractors and most of them are under warranty or have a service plan paid for anyway.

We paid for a five-year service and parts warranty for the little Claas Axos, too – we work on the view that a trained eye can spot trouble and potentially save a lot of money.

As for the other kit, the combine and beet harvester both get serviced by specialists, although we help with the work that has to be done to keep the labour costs down.

What about the rest of the machinery?

Most of the kit that turns up on the farm gets a few alterations within its first year. A good example is our six-leg Quivogne subsoiler toolbar, which can carry a set of three-point linkage mounted Opico discs or Kongskilde Vibroflex.

We decided to add wings to the Vibroflex to bring it out to 4.1m, but when we measured it all up we found there was no consistency in tine spacing on the original frame. We’ve found this with several other implements, too.

Which spanners?

Draper Expert and Britool. We’ve got several sets – some stay in the tractors but we’ve still got a full compliment in the workshop.

Where do you get your tools and spare parts from?

We’ve got a few pretty good local dealers. I’d usually approach Weatherhead’s, Mann’s or Pan Anglia for the general stuff. We also buy a fair amount of our tools off the internet because it’s a lot cheaper.

Next purchase?

A new set of rear 600s and front 540 flotation tyres are next on the agenda for the Axos 340 for rolling and general use. It arrived on farm with narrow wheels for sugar beet.

If you’d like to reveal the contents of your workshop to us, email fwmachinery@rbi.co.uk