8 June 2001


With record rainfalls, sodden

ground conditions and heavy

workloads, last autumn and

early spring have been

challenging periods for Norfolk

contractors Happisburgh Farm

Company. Andy Moore

heard all about it

RAIN, rain and more rain. Will it ever stop? Norfolk contractor Alister Wait asked this question nearly every day last autumn and now he is having to cope with a backlog of work caused by one of the wettest seasons on record.

With ground conditions similar to a paddy field, cereal drilling had to be carried out in sporadic bursts when there was a let up in the rain.

"Drilling last autumn and this spring was a total nightmare from start to finish," says Mr Wait, of Happisburgh Farm Company (HFC). "We started ploughing in good time in September but from then on combination drilling became a stop-start operation for the rest of the season."

Based near Lessingham, his firm drilled 240ha (600 acres) by Christmas, with the final 160ha (400 acres) sown by the second week in May.

The most challenging period, he says, was in the last week of April when the company was faced with squeezing five weeks work into an almost impossibly tight schedule.

And if drilling spring barley and wheat wasnt enough, the contractors had to catch up with slurry/fertiliser spreading, sugar beet drilling and grass management, not to mention the spraying operation which amounts to 5000ha (12,350 acres) in a typical year.

A tall order by many standards, yet Mr Wait says HFC caught up with most of the work on the strength of its five director/farmers who own and operate machinery for each contract operation.

Not content with drilling a scheduled acreage, HFC also managed to pick-up 61ha (150 acres) of fire brigade spring drilling work because growers were desperate to get seed in the ground. This was also achieved by the firm changing its cultivation system.

"The largest development on the cultivations front over the past nine months has been the combination drilling side," says Mr Wait. "A neighbouring grower dropped out of the drilling work which led us to take on a new farmer – Trevor Nash – to do the work."

Farming 100ha (247 acres) of his own land, Mr Nash has extra drilling capacity to suit the demands of HFCs mixed arable customers who are located in a 20-mile radius.

Taking on a new farmer/partner also made way for new cultivation kit. Out went a 3m Amazone RPD power harrow drill combination and in came a 3m Amazone Airstar Profi, owned and operated by Mr Nash, behind a NH TM150 tractor.

"Trevor looked at buying a 3m Lemken or Vaderstad drill, but was more impressed by the build quality and metering system of the Airstar Profi," says Mr Wait. "The drill could be calibrated more easily than other makes and appeared more suitable for sowing a range of crops such as cereals, beans and grass over a variety of soil types."

Staying profitable

To help justify the cost of the new combination and for cultivation contracts to stay profitable, HFC increased contract drilling rates from £44/ha to £46/ha (£17.75 to £18.75/acre).

The new 3m drill combination can operate at 16ha/day (40 acres) in dry silty soils, which reduces to 10ha (25 acres) when the outfit is run directly behind the plough.

Ploughing this year has fallen mainly into the hands of a hired 160hp New Holland TM165 and a five-furrow Kverneland plough, while a 3m Cousins press is used on the front of the drilling tractor to give extra consolidation.

"We intend to buy a new five-furrow Kverneland plough with a 300 type headstock so it can be used in combination with a Packomat press," adds Mr Wait. "The plan is to achieve a more flexible two-pass cultivation system which is weatherproof and can be tailored to suit different types of land."

Maintaining a reliable ploughing service with greater workrates has also led the company to evaluate the economics of hiring a 215hp John Deere 8210 or 235hp 8310, which Mr Wait says will make light work of pulling the new plough with bolt-on subsoiling legs.

"Having a few extra horses on tap will also suit our plans to eventually upgrade to larger machinery as our contract acreage increases."

Latest tractor

The newest tractor to the HFC fold is a 170hp Fastrac 3185 which is used for a variety of operations ranging from relief ploughing, slurry hauling to disc harrowing.

Although Mr Wait says he is impressed with the tractors Smoothshift clutch and high-speed transmission, he believes the machine could do with extra grunt for heavy draft operations.

"Our four Fastracs have been proven to be reliable and rugged workhorses over the past four years, although JCB is falling behind in the power stakes," he says.

"We are waiting with baited breath for the company to introduce a tractor over 200hp and with a full powershift transmission." &#42


Base: Church Farm, Lessingham, Norfolk (01692-582300).

Work undertaken: All arable operations and silage/haylage baling.

Machinery fleet: Seven tractors (100hp-170hp), Five furrow Kverneland plough, 3m Amazone Airstar Profi drill, 3m power harrow, self-prop sprayer, three combines, self-prop beet harvester, small and large square balers, three slurry tankers.

Labour: Four full-time plus casuals at peak periods.

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