What’s in Your Shed? visits a busy Somerset contractor

A fleet of John Deere tractors and a lone Fendt Vario form the backbone of Somerset contractor James Jones’ machinery fleet.

He started up with a lone Case Maxxum 5130 and a Welger roller baler and seven years later is running seven frontline tractors and a team of five full-time drivers.

Business facts: James Jones Contracting, Winchcombe, Somerset

  • Contracting services Self-propelled and wagon silage, big square and round baling/wrapping, umbilical and tanker slurry spreading, muckspreading, cultivations and drilling, hedgecutting, digger work
  • Staff Five full-time and five part-time, plus a team of casual workers

See also: What’s in Your Shed?: Contractor of the Year winner Martin Hays reveals all

In the shed

Volvo loading shovel

Volvo loading shovel © James Andrews

  • Tractors John Deere 6215R x2,6R 155 x2, 6155R x2, Fendt 720 Vario, Massey Ferguson 135, Leyland 272
  • Forage harvesters Claas 870 with grass and maize headers, Pottinger Toro 6010 wagon x2
  • Balers/wrappers McHale Fusion 3 x2, Krone 1290 High Speed, Claas 2100 and 5200, McHale 998 wrapper
  • Other grass kit Pottinger Novacat A10 triple mowers, Krone Easycut front and rear mowers, Kuhn GA7631 twin-rotor rake, Krone Swadro TC 760 twin-rotor rake, Krone Swadro 1400 four-rotor rake, Kuhn eight-rotor tedder
  • Loading shovel Volvo L70
  • Slurry tankers Redrock 3,500gal, Conor 3,500 gal with 7.5m dribble bar, Major 3,100gal with 7.5m dribble bar
  • Umbilical kit Doda HC35 pump x2, Mastek engine driven pump, 12m SlurryKat dribble bar, 3,000m Gollmer and Hummel pipe, Storth reeler with three bobbins, Storth Mega Mix lagoon pump
  • Cultivation kit Kuhn Multimaster 153 five-furrow plough, 5m Kuhn power harrow
  • Drills 3m Vaderstad Rapid, 3m Kuhn Venta power harrow disc combination
  • Diggers Volvo ECR145 14t, JCB JS130 13t, Doosan DX85 8.6t, Bobcat E27 2.7t

How did you get started?

My first job out of school was working on my uncle’s dairy farm, after which I signed up for an apprenticeship with another local farmer.

I enjoyed the work, but I was earning a pittance so decided to do some contracting alongside.

After scraping some cash together, I bought a Case Maxxum 5130 and a Welger roller baler – this setup got me started, but the baler was a dog and gave me loads of trouble.

When I was 18, I upgraded to a John Deere 644 baler and a towed wrapper that I pulled behind an MX135.

It was a good outfit, but the wrapper was tricky to use and my only guide for picking up the bales was an unreliable camera.

If it stopped working, I had to guess what I was doing, and if I accidentally lowered the wrapper arm onto the top of a bale, it would tip the whole machine over.

It did a lot of work though, and helped me get to where I am now, seven years later, running seven frontline tractors and a team of five full-time drivers.

We also do a much broader range of work, including wagon and precision-chop silage, umbilical and tanker slurry spreading, cultivation work and drilling.

Diggers are another arm of the business, carrying out everything from farm track construction and shed building to groundworks for houses.

One of the reasons for the rapid growth is that the machinery is worked flat out and clocks up high hours.

My theory is that if I can keep the kit moving and earning, it’ll pay its way – and it seems to be working.

Are you brand loyal?

Fendt 720 tractor

© James Andrews

After the Case tractors, I had a couple of second-hand Fendts before settling on John Deere.

I’ve got six of them at the moment and recently placed an order with Hunts in Cheddar for four new ones – a 6R 250 and three 6R 145s.

I don’t like them to have it all their own way though, so I recently bought a new Fendt 720 Vario.

Favourite dealer

Halse South West is my favourite. The amount of equipment they’ve got there is incredible and we can get almost anything we need, usually at short notice.

The backup is good, too.

Another firm I like doing business with is Michael Burge, which has a great selection of second-hand kit – including plenty of tidy, low-hour tractors.

The Claas 870 forager came from there, as did one of our John Deeres. He also sells Smyth trailers, which I’m a fan of.

Favourite piece of kit?

McHale Fusion 3

© James Andrews

Having done so much work with a wrapper towed behind a baler, the McHale Fusion 3s have been the biggest game changer.

I got my first in 2019 and instantly doubled my output. They’re easy to set up and use, and we’ve had very few problems with them over the years.

However, there was a slight blip a few weeks ago when a roller shaft broke on one and we had a couple of niggles with a wrapper unit.

We’ve stuck with the net version as it gives consistent results – we’ve heard some reports of film models struggling to tie unless there’s a decent amount of moisture in the crop.

Least favourite piece of kit?

Our 3,500gal Conor tanker has been a pile of rubbish. The drawbar cracked, the pump is weak and I hate using it that much that I hired in another tanker recently and left it in the yard.

The 12m Storth dribble bar we use behind the Major tanker has also been disappointing, blocking whenever there’s any fibre in the slurry and suffering several cracks in the framework.

We’ve since cut it down to 7.5m and it’s held together better, although blockages are still a problem.

Modified Storth dribble bar

Modified Storth dribble bar © James Andrews

Latest purchase?

There are a few new bits of kit, but the most recent delivery was a Redrock 3,500gal tanker. It seems well built, but it blew an O-ring in the agitator the first time we used it, which we’re still waiting for the. dealer to sort.

A Mastek dribble bar has also been ordered for it and it’ll be interesting to see how this performs – hopefully a lot better than the Storth.

Not long before this the Fendt 720 arrived, which has gone well and the main driver loves it. It probably uses less fuel than an equivalent Deere, too.

Another recent addition is a second-hand Krone 1290 big baler that set me back £46,000.

Before, we’d only had a Claas 2100 with 80×70 chamber and a 5200 that makes 120×70 bales, so it’s good that we can now offer the larger 120x90s.

Yet to be delivered are the four new John Deere tractors and a set of Krone Easycut triple mowers with groupers.

John Deere 6R 155 and Krone 1290

John Deere 6R 155 and Krone 1290 © James Andrews

Oldest machine still at work?

The 2013 Jaguar 870 forager is the oldest, but I spent £20,000 having it overhauled before it arrived in 2021, so it’s like a much newer machine inside.

At the same time, it had two new turbos fitted, as well as a Rockstopper that works just like a metal detector for stones.

It seemed like a lot of money to fork out, but as the machine only cost £80,000, the total outlay wasn’t that bad.

It flies along in both grass and maize and we’ve had very few problems with it so far.

How long do you keep your machines?

They tend to stay until they give trouble, I think they’re getting a bit tired, or I get offered a good deal to upgrade.

For this reason, some of the John Deeres I bought new have been run up to 10,000 hours or more.

That said, as each tractor is doing over 3,000 hours a year, it doesn’t take long for them to get there.

Biggest repair bill?

The main gearbox went on the Claas 5200 and it cost £31,000 to replace. Considering I paid £49,000 for the baler two years earlier, it was a huge amount of money.

Thankfully the insurance covered it, as the oil drain plug had come loose.

Next on your wish list?

I’d like to get a remote slurry pumping trailer so that I can speed up the umbilical job and free up a tractor that can be earning money elsewhere.

I’m currently eyeing up one of the Tramspread models.

Biggest machinery mistake?

We’ve had our fair share of mishaps. A while ago, the safety latch broke on our Pottinger rake causing one of the wings to drop down, demolishing a couple of garden walls and a section of hedge.

The insurance claim for the walls alone was £10,000.

Another recent one was writing off the pick-up on the Krone 1290 baler just two weeks after it arrived.

It happened when the driver was cruising along a field and hit a deep rut, causing the pick-up to smash into the ground and damaging it beyond repair.

Most overpriced spare part?

It has to be anything that’s got a John Deere badge on it.

Best invention?

The hours we spend sitting on a tractor seat means there’s rarely much time for workshop projects.

We have modified the odd piece of machinery though, and we do most of the maintenance on kit that’s out of warranty.

What couldn’t you live without in the workshop?

It recently burnt to the ground, so just having one would be nice.

When it was standing, we had a decent selection of tools and equipment that allowed us to do most maintenance and repair jobs.

Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to put up a replacement.

What’s your everyday transport?

Ford Ranger Wildtrak

Ford Ranger Wildtrak © James Andrews

I’ve got a 2012 Ford Ranger Wildtrak that’s done 118,000 miles – I only bought it recently, but it’s a nice thing to drive.

Fuel economy isn’t the best though, and I noticed it was doing 10mpg when I was towing the other day.

It replaced a Ranger 2.2 Limited that we’d given a hard life, including backing into it with a slurry tanker.

When the wheel came off while driving, I decided it was time to upgrade.

Best tractor you’ve ever had?

I had a Fendt 820 a few years ago, which was a fantastic tractor. It was solid, pulled like a train and gave me very little trouble.

It was already on 8,000 hours when I bought it and I took it up to 15,000 before selling it a couple of years later.

Worst tractor?

Our John Deere 6215R has been the most unreliable tractor we’ve had.

Most of the problems have been niggles with the transmission and electrics, but it’s also had a new hydraulic pump.

It was only on 3,000 hours when I bought it and it’s now on 8,000, so it’s done less work than most of the others.

It’s a proper “Friday afternoon in the pub” tractor, and I’m planning to move it on when the new 6R 250 arrives.

Biggest machinery bargain?

Major tanker

Major tanker © James Andrews

The best deal I’ve had was the Major tanker, which I bought for £10,800 when it was just a year old, including the Storth 12m dribble bar.

It had been repossessed, and when I saw the price, I drove straight over to Reading to buy it. Despite the dribble bar being a disappointment, it was still a bit of a steal.

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