In the latest instalment of our monthly What’s In Your Shed? series, we head to Suffolk to meet father-and-son team Mike and James Porter.
They ran Ford tractors until 1968, but since then John Deeres have taken over.
“All the technology needs to talk to each other these days too and we are using John Deere’s Greenstar GPS system, so it keeps it simple if the machines are the same brand. This is why we went for a John Deere sprayer this time around,” says Mike Porter.
How loyal are you to individual brands?
We always chose Ford until I came home from college in 1968 and we bought our first John Deere. We’ve been yellow and green ever since.
All the technology needs to talk to each other these days and we are using John Deere’s Greenstar GPS system, so it keeps it simple if the machines are the same brand.
P Tuckwell at Worlingworth is our favourite. As we have started using GPS on all the machines, if we have any problems they will either ring back straight away with a solution or send someone out to the farm by the following morning. They have a dedicated man for the GPS and sprayers.
Porters Farms, Walpole, Suffolk
- Arable: 307ha cropping, including wheat, oilseed rape, spring barley, spring beans, vining peas, spring oats and spring linseed, plus ELS and HLS environmental schemes
- Contract Farming: 179ha of arable across two holdings, adjacent to the home farm
- Staff: Mike, Corinne and James Porter, plus two casual harvest staff in the summer
Favourite piece of kit?
The JD190R we bought in 2013. It’s well-powered, comfortable and the layout of the cab makes it easy to operate.
John Deere might cost a bit more, but we would rather have something that is right than making do with something that isn’t. It has done about 3,500 hours and we’ll probably change it for another in a couple of years.
Least favourite bit of kit?
We don’t have it any more, but it was a Japanese Morooka rubber-tracked machine, which was made for agriculture or carrying loads on rough terrain.
You had two levers that slowed or sped up two hydraulic motors to steer it. If you had a load on board it would steer fine, but the tracks were no good at pulling anything.
At the time the only other rubber-tracked machine available was the Cat Challenger, but that was too big. This was something new and we were suckers and bought one.
We have been using a Shakaerator followed by a Simba Xpress for preparing our ground for drilling and the current 4.6m Xpress has been with us for 13 years.
Last autumn we had six of the springs break and wondered if the same would happen next season, so we have replaced it with a 5m Great Plains Xpress. It now comes with paddles, which should make a big difference for levelling the ground.
Oldest machine still at work?
There is an old 1972 Ford 2000 still on the farm. It’s a yard tractor and is used to pull the odd trailer around and goes on the saw bench when we want to cut some firewood. It must only do 20 hours a year.
It is rarer than the 3000 and a bit of a collector’s item. We thought about doing it up as a winter job as the hydraulics aren’t brilliant, but it needs stripping down so will end up being a pretty big job.
How long do you keep machines?
We keep most machines about eight to 10 years. We try to get as much value as possible out of them without getting caught with costly repair bills or downtime.
What is next on your wish list?
The John Deere 6920 is due to be replaced and we will change it for a second-hand 6150R.
Most embarrassing machinery mistake?
James: Last autumn when I was drilling instead of lifting the centre marker, I pressed to fold it out and bent it on the power pole I was passing.
Mike: I would like to say that I never make mistakes, but years ago I was cultivating at night and I managed to block up the cultivator going around the headland. I was lifting it up and looking behind me to see if it had cleared and the tractor went into a ditch. It took a heavy machine to pull me out.
Most expensive repair bill?
Our John Deere 8210T had to have its back end rebuilt, which cost about £10,000. It was a common problem as the whole thing had a faulty design and wasn’t built strongly enough. You would get a banging noise to start with and then you’d see metal filings in the filters and knew you had to strip it down.
It’s our sprayer filling facility that we put in about four years ago. Before, we were filling the sprayer in the yard, so needed something to prevent any spillages getting away.
We looked at several others and designed our own to suit. It sits in a shed that my grandfather built in the 1940s, and has a bunded concrete area, a bio-filter to process washings and the chemical store in a container just next door.
There are also two tanks outside that harvest rainwater from the grain store roof and can hold 74,000 litres. We haven’t used mains water for spraying in five years – the rainwater is much softer and we’ve found glyphosate works much better.
What couldn’t you live without in the workshop?
Probably our old faithful Saffie stick welder. We have had to have it repaired a couple of times, but it still does a good job.
Do you buy second-hand?
Sometimes, but it’s usually a demo or nearly new machine. For tractors, our main one would always be bought new, as you have so many options and extras these days that you’d struggle to get exactly what you want. If buying a second-hand tractor, we certainly wouldn’t want any more than 2,000 hours on the clock.
What’s in the shed
- Tractors: John Deere 6190R, 8310RT, 6920, Ford 2000
- Combine: New Holland CR 8.80 with 9m header
- Drill: 4m Horsch Sprinter with Bourgault coulters with variable rate seeding
- Sprayer: 24m John Deere M740i trailed
- Fertiliser spreader: 24m Kverneland Exacta Geospreader on variable-rate P & K
- Loader: Manitou 735
- Cultivation kit: 5m McConnel Shakaerator, 5m Great Plains Xpress, 4m Top Tilth, Single leg Mole drainer, 12.8m Cousins Cambridge Rolls, 6.2m Vaderstad NZ, 7-furrow Dowdeswell DP1 HD
Favourite/least favourite job?
James: I like spraying – it’s a nice, easy job and you can cover a big area over the course of a day. Hedgecutting is my least favourite – it’s pretty tedious.
Mike: Ploughing is probably my favourite – there is just something about the job and doing it well. Hedgecutting is my least favourite too as it’s slow and doesn’t feel very productive.
What’s your everyday transport?
Mike: James has a Nissan Navara and I have a Toyota Hilux and there isn’t a lot between the two. We always buy new through Fram Farmers for a group discount and with the amount you save, it’s as good a price as buying a nearly new truck second-hand.
Best tractor you have ever bought?
Easily our JD 6920. It’s been so reliable over the years considering the work its done.
Biggest machinery bargain?
Again, it would be our John Deere 6920. It came from a 202ha farm down the road and was three years old when we bought it. We knew the farmer and knew it had been looked after – we even saw it arrive at the dealer before it had been washed down. We paid £25,000 for it and it is due to be replaced next year.
Any classics in the fleet?
Apart from the Ford 2000, we have loads of Britain’s tractor models and some would be 60 years old now. We keep some of them in the office and still buy them occasionally. When we get a new machine, we ask for a model to be included too.
Mike: I would love to have an old Field Marshall, but you need to be an engineer to tinker with them and keep them going and I’m not really one for doing that.
Show us your kit
Do you want to reveal the good and bad of your fleet for our What’s In Your Shed series? Write to Oliver Mark at Farmers Weekly, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5AS or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org