Running the right number of machines for the right
amount of work at the right rates can be a tricky
balancing act for all contractors, it seems. Andy Moore
sees how T N Sneath and Sons cope with the problem
CONTRACTOR Richard Sneath has been evaluating his firms level of mechanisation in relation to the work his company is asked to.
A decline in this years combining area led to the sale of a 10-year old New Holland TF46 combine which raised some of the £70,000 needed for extra machinery which was purchased in summer.
"Although we picked up odd bits of combine work throughout the season, we were down by about 1500 acres overall for this years harvest," says Mr Sneath, based at Pinchbeck, Lincs. "The original plan was to chop in our three year old TF78 – but the TF46 was longer in the tooth and selling the newer combine would have lost us more money."
Despite the sale of the TF46, he believes his company still has 40% spare harvesting capacity on the strength of its existing fleet of four combines.
Flanking the TF78 is a pair of 14 year old New Holland TF44s equipped with 6m (20ft) headers, and a Claas Dominator 96 armed with a 4.5m (15ft header).
Mr Sneath says running four combines with varying capacities suits the firms customers who range from large and small-scale cereal growers to mixed producers.
"The Dominator is more handy for use on farms with less than 100acres which often require cereals to be harvested below 15% moisture," he adds. "The contract rate for the Dominator is about £3 to £4/acre more than the larger machines which operate at greater economies of scale."
If cereals can be harvested below 15% moisture, Mr Sneath says his smaller customers do not grumble at paying the premium.
On the baling front, Mr Sneath was contracted to produce 12,000 Hesston bales for Anglian straw – 6000 more than last season – which he says made up for the drop in combine work.
"We bought a second Hesston baler – a New Holland BB980 – to cope with the extra straw, but found the two machines could not cope," he explains. "The solution was to buy another MF190 Hesston baler from the proceeds of the combine which enabled us to bale Anglian Straws quota and another 2000 for a private customer."
Having another baler and a bale chaser on-board also allowed fields to be cleared much quicker than last year which, with drier ground conditions, made way for earlier ploughing, explains Mr Sneath.
Although the operation was brought forward, the firm lost 120ha (300 acres) of ploughing due to a retiring customer. The amount was later replaced by 100ha (250 acres) and an extra 40ha (100 acres) of subsoiling work.
Other tillage work
"The initial loss in ploughing acreage was more than offset by taking on other primary tillage work such as disc harrowing that went up by a third," he adds. "We have had little feedback from customers wanting us to try out minimal tillage because the majority of their ground contains heavy clay and black land soils."
This year, ploughing fell into the hands of two six-furrow models with presses – a Dowdeswell DP7 and Ransome 300 which are pulled behind a New Holland 8970 and a Case Magnum 7240.
With clay soils turning into almost concrete in dry conditions, Mr Sneath calls on the services of 4m mounted Vicon/Kuhn and Kuhn/Norston power harrow drill combinations to get seed in the ground as quickly as possible.
"We drill about 500 acres of cereals which is below the amount needed to keep both outfits rolling, although there is another 4m trailed Kuhn/Accord combo which can be brought into the equation," he says. "Many of our customers got their fingers burnt after last autumns appalling wet weather and the extra combination is useful if any fire brigade work has to be carried out."
Another operation that has the edge on capacity is the sugar beet lifting service which employs no less than five self-propelled harvesters to eat their way through 1822ha (4500 acres).
Filling out the fleet is an Agrifac Big Six, a Vervaet 17-tonner, two Riecam 300s, and an eight-year-old Tim 1800 which are all six-row models.
"The Big Six, the Vervaet and one of the Riecams are used to get most of the beet out of the ground before the other machines are introduced later in the season when harvesting conditions become more difficult," explains Mr Sneath.
"We have no fixed policy on beet harvester replacement, although we aim to keep them up to seven years if they are in good nick or a new model with technical improvements becomes available."
On the contract rate side, sugar beet harvesting went up by £5/ha (£2/acre) to offset last years hike in diesel prices – as did combination drilling which increased by £1.20/ha (50p/acre). *
• Base: Crosslanes Fm, Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire (01775-640373)
• Work undertaken: Stubble to stubble operations for cereals and sugar beet, hedge/verge mowing, amenity and groundscare work.
• Machinery fleet: 19 NH tractors (94hp-240hp), three ploughs, three drill combinations, four combines, two MF 190 Hesston balers and a NH BB980 baler, five self prop beet harvesters, 15 hedge trimmers and verge mowers.
• Labour: 10 full time plus five casuals at peak periods.