What’s in your Shed? visits an East Lothian arable and veg grower

Luffness Mains is tucked away on the banks for the Forth, roughly 20 miles east of Edinburgh.

The 600ha is run by father-and-son team Geert and Graham Knottenbelt for Allan Stevenson, current chairman of the Farmers Club in London.

We chatted to Graham about the machinery fleet at Luffness Mains.

Do you have a favourite brand?

I’ve always been a John Deere tractor man, but the farm was New Holland for about 25 years until 2014.

The catalyst for change was when we bought our 36m JD trailed sprayer and saw the benefits of having a fully integrated GPS system that was quick to switch between machines.

We used to spend hours transferring Trimble wiring looms between tractors, so the Greenstar domes and screens were really appealing.

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Favourite dealer?

Our local JD dealer is Thomas Sherriff at Haddington, but our tractors are on a three-year, 3,000-hour arrangement with a company in the Midlands. All we do is put the fuel in and Sherriffs takes care of the rest.

We notch about 1,000 hours on each machine a year and harvest carrots through to January and again in May, so there isn’t much downtime and reliability is essential.

Farm facts

  • Business: Luffness Mains Farming
  • Staff: Geert and Graham Knottenbelt, plus three full-time
  • Crops: Winter and spring wheat, potatoes, carrots and environmental schemes
  • Soil: Light sandy and silty loam to heavy clay

The carrots and potatoes are supplied on a deadline, which keeps the pressure on and means lorries are usually waiting in the yard.

Favourite piece of kit?

The Standen T2 trailed harvester is my favourite. I like the fact that it is built in Ely and it’s very easy to maintain during the season.

The £145,000 price was also a big appeal – equivalent manufacturers couldn’t get close in price with equipment doing the same job.

Least favourite?

I bought a new pump for our irrigation system last year and the worst bit about it is the priming system.

I’ve been known to spend three hours trying to get it to work and can’t say I look forward to using it.

What is your replacement policy?

We are a small team and need reliable machines, which is why our tractors are on a guaranteed replacement programme.

We don’t have much of a say on the spec and add our row crops and Greenstar domes.

Our first set of tractors has just been changed for a new fleet, which all have Autopowr gearboxes, Ultimate spec and front linkages. A couple even have flashy chrome exhausts.

Our front-line potato and carrot harvester will usually do about three years given the fact we are lifting 3,500t of carrots during the winter and 7,500t of potatoes annually.

Our combine is a 2007 CR9080 and, with its 30ft cut, allows us to nip over our 200ha/year pretty quickly.

The combine could be classed as overkill for what we need, but it’s a reliable old girl that can knock down the acres in windows between lifting potatoes during a typical Scottish harvest.

We hire our flatbed potato trailers from a local company for a reasonable rate and we only use them for a short period.

These have flotation tyres, roll-over sheets and catwalks for safe levelling of boxes.

At busy periods, we have three self-employed contractors – one regular guy comes over from Ireland every year with his Claas Arion and stays for five months during harvesting and planting.

Latest purchase?

Earlier this year, we purchased our first lorry to reduce the reliance on hauliers and gain better control of transport by moving produce ourselves.

It is a DAF 105.480 and predominately pulls a curtain-sided trailer loaded with tattie boxes for the packers 40 miles away. It is sign written and we ended up taking a full-time chap on to drive it.

As a youngster, I was John Deere and lorry obsessed, so at 34 years old I’ve achieved my dream in the past five months with a new fleet of JDs and our first lorry.

I’m not sure farming gets much better when it comes to kit, but it’s a shame that the potato trade isn’t as rosy.

Another recent purchase was a six-row, front-mounted Baselier topper, purely because we can’t use diquat anymore. It’s a brilliant machine and really well built.

What is your next purchase?

After the lorry and JD tractor fleet expenses already this year, there won’t be much else. However, I’d like a cultivator to replace the Sumo.

It’s not a bad machine, but without leading discs it can struggle in trashy conditions and is quite heavy on the linkage.

We have a neighbouring farmer who comes in to rip up the potato land in the spring with a 4m Vaderstad Topdown that does a lovely job on our soil, but I’ve also looked at a 4m Horsch Terrano and a Great Plains SL.

I’ve found anything of that size on the second-hand market is snapped up instantly. 

Oldest machine?

We run two trailed harvesters as we have a crop of salad potatoes on the banks of the Clyde over an hour away from our base.

We obviously can’t split one harvester in half so we bought a 2005 Grimme GZ a few years ago for a very reasonable £18,000.

On good days it can keep up with our T2, but it’s a bit heavy on soggy ground.

We gave it a £10,000 overhaul last winter because it had roughly 1,400ha on the clock, though only does about 50ha/year for us.

It is cheap to run and takes some pressure and road miles off our newer Standen T2.

Most embarrassing mistake?

Something I really don’t like admitting is that I rolled our trailed sprayer this year. It sounds worse than it was, though.

The sprayer was unfolded and crawling around a steep headland bend with 4,000 litres on board.

The liquid got a bit of frisky and the sprayer went over really gently, with the booms taking the brunt of the topple – particularly the inside 6m section.

I was unhurt as the tractor stayed on all fours, mainly because the two were connected with a Scharmuller ball hitch.

It really got to me as I take pride in my work and look after all the kit we have. I’m still beating myself up about it now.

What’s in the shed?

Tractors
• 2020 John Deere 6250R
• 2020 John Deere 6215R x2
• 2018 John Deere 6215R with JD 683R loader
• 2020 John Deere 6155R
• 1967 Nuffield 10/60

Harvesters
• 2018 Standen T2 trailer potato and carrot harvester
• 2007 New Holland CR9080 30ft combine
• 2005 Grimme GZ trailed potato harvester

New Holland CR9080 combine

New Holland CR9080 combine

Sprayer and spreader
• 2013 John Deere R952i 36m trailed sprayer
• Kverneland fertiliser spreader

Loader
• 2018 Merlo 42.7 telehandler
• 2019 Doosan forklifts x2

Merlo T42 telehandler

Merlo T42 telehandler

Lorry
• 2020 DAF XF 480 with curtain sided trailer

Arable kit
• Kverneland five-furrow iPlough
• Kverneland six-furrow plough
• 3m Sumo trio
• 4m Kverneland S-drill power harrow combi
• 12m Dalbo rolls
• Richard Western 16t grain trailers x2

Kverneland iPlough

Kverneland iPlough

Potato and carrot kit
• Grimme CW150 destoner
• Grimme GB330 planter
• Grimme bed formers
• Baselier six-row topper
• Tong mobile grader
• Twin axle artic dolly trailer

The damage was not insignificant and was likely to be a write-off, but we felt it was worth repairing.

Due to its age, it isn’t worth a lot on the insurance, but a brand-new replacement would be more than £100,000.

Most frustrating breakdown?

Replacing snapped webs on root-crop harvesters and destoners.

It’s so frustrating as it requires plenty of digging and cutting to get them out, setting us back about five hours and costing up to £1,500 in parts.

It’s made even more frustrating when you have a team of guys waiting. The bearings on our Jones carrot bed former are regular offenders, too.

Favourite job?

Harvesting tatties and carrots. I love it as you get to see what your hard work throughout the year has produced.

I also take a lot of pride in how the crop is lifted and only have myself to blame if there is bruising. I can’t imagine not doing it to be honest.

Least favourite?

Picking up irrigation pipes. A pet hate is pipe that’s been driven on and ratchet straps that have been squashed – there’s no need for it.

Everyday transport?

We have a brace of Mitsubishi L200s that are good trucks.

Two L200 Mitsubishi pickups

Dad puts about 20,000 miles on his every year and I do 10,000 as I’m in the tractor a bit more. We used to lease them but these two are owned.

Best tractor you’ve driven?

Our new 6250R is hard to beat. All our tractors link into Deere’s My Operations Centre, which allows Dad and I to keep track on where everyone is, making health and safety easier when we are spread out and lone working.

I also want to link our weather stations to it – something I hope to trial soon.

We can monitor fuel usage and application maps can be transferred between machines. I’d like to reduce the control boxes in the cabs, so Isobus is the way forward.

Worst tractor?

Some of our New Hollands were terrible for oil leaks – the TM130s were the worst from memory.

Biggest bargain?

I think a bargain isn’t just financially related, but based on how it can make the whole operation easier.

The bucket brush for the front of the telehandler speeds up cleaning roads and keeps the yard tidy, and it’s invaluable in the winter.

We had a lorry dolly built by BYE Engineering that allows us to pull bulkers on to the field using the tractor and load directly from the harvesters when it is dry enough, helping to avoid double handling the crop.

Lorry dolly

It’s sad, but you’re only as good as your last load nowadays, so if we can reduce handling then all the better.  

However, the Grimme GZ is hard to beat as it offers us some seriously cheap harvesting and always gets comments on social media.

Any classics in the shed?

Our main tractor driver, Andrew Peach, has an old Nuffield 10/60 that was converted by the previous owner to run a BMC lorry engine. It gets a fair bit of use topping horse paddocks and collecting fallen trees.

Learning in the shed

The farm’s owner, Allan Stevenson, wanted a room on the farm where he could bring visitors and also double up as a learning environment.

When we built the new potato and grain stores, Allan added a LEAF marque room to the new facilities.

The room’s walls give an insight into the location of the farm and just how exposed it is to the changing water levels of the Forth.

Flooding happens on average once every three years and the room helps to highlight the emphasis placed on environmental sustainability and other elements of the LEAF marque.

“It gives us a place to train staff, host visitors and provide an insight into what farming in Luffness is really like,” says Graham Knottenbelt.

“Most think that farming up here is easy with the fertile soils and a rainfall average that is on par with Lincolnshire, but it has its challenges just like everywhere else, especially when you can have grade one and grade five land in the same field.”