Partnership shows its worth with big cash savings
A positive start with real cash
savings and potential to cut
the time needed to establish
cereals is the verdict on the
first 18 months of a joint
venture to merge the arable
farming interests of two large
Suffolk farming families.
Edward Long reports
ARISTA Farming was set up to run 2200ha (5500 acres) of arable land farmed by John Brown & Sons and Geo Gittus & Sons.
The partnership operates independently of the two businesses and charges for work done.
After a trial run in 1999, Arista sold all the farm equipment owned by the two families to release capital to invest in new, larger equipment bought on a hire purchase arrangement.
The new fleet consists of two Claas Lexion 480 combines with 9.15m (30ft) cutter bars, two 410hp Claas 95E rubber-tracked crawler tractors backed by three John Deere tractors in the 120-150hp range, plus two self-propelled Bateman sprayers. The main cultivation kit comprises a 6m Simba Solo with Cultipress, an 8m Simba Freeflow drill, and two six-furrow ploughs.
The sale of the unwanted equipment raised £400,000 and annual repayment charges for the new machines total £220,000 for five years.
The merged business comprises 1600ha (4000 acres) of heavy land cropped with wheat, winter rape, and spring beans, the rest is light to medium soil growing spring barley, rye, hemp, sugar beet and potatoes.
The cultivations policy is to use a min-till approach for the heavy land, but retain ploughing for some of the lighter parts of the farm.
"It was a good decision at the right time to join forces," says George Gittus. "We have stripped out a lot of the fixed costs that we had when we farmed individually so now operate a much more efficient business.
"When we came together we each had four tractor drivers, now we have just five between us, the other three are employed in other capacities for our non-merged farming businesses, in my case this involves mainly working with pigs."
The cumulative hours worked by the 12 tractors used by the two farms before the merger was double that of the first full year of the partnership arrangement.
Last autumns wet weather made it impossible to drill the last 300ha (750 acres) of second wheat at the optimum time, although it was muddled in eventually. The dreadful conditions also forced a switch back to the old combination drill, which had been retained for such an eventuality, for 80ha (200 acres) of late wheat after sugar beet.
Before the partnership was formed, ADAS mechanisation specialist John Bailey showed there was scope to cut fixed costs by one-third from £300/ha to £200 (£120-£80/acre), the lions share of this coming from reduced mechanisation charges.
"We have achieved this with a £40/acre reduction," says Mr Gittus. "With an 8.75t/ha wheat crop we are on track to cut the per-tonne cost of production by £12 to improve our margins."
His partners son, Rupert Brown, is "absolutely delighted" with how the arrangement is working. "It has put my cost structure on a better footing and with mutual respect, trust and co-operation never in question the arrangement is going from strength to strength."
Despite the wet harvest, the two big combines coped well with 1400ha (3500 acres) of cereals. By snatching every opportunity to go to work they were finished by early September.
The two biggest lessons to emerge from last season was the need to avoid delaying drilling second wheat and the benefits of drainage. Although on paper it seemed the partnership would be light on machinery to cope with the autumn workload bottleneck, in the event there was ample time as the decision had been made earlier not to drill second wheat until early October to avoid the worst of the take-all risk. To avoid having a tractor standing idle it was put to work mole-draining.
"Like everyone else it was a job that had been neglected in recent years but we managed to do 985 acres," Mr Brown says. "Our timing was spot on because wheat on that land looked superb all winter. As effective drainage helps reduce take-all pressure we now plan to bring the drilling date for second wheat forward to the third week of September and use Jockey-treated seed."
Although it has been a tricky season the min-till approach is considered a success and both George Gittus and Chris Brown are convinced they have the equipment to cope easily in a more normal autumn and winter.
"It is crystal clear from our experience so far that with decent conditions there is scope for big time savings. With the big Simba kit we were able to get in over 150 acres of wheat a day last autumn. We set ourselves a target of establishing winter cereals in just 19 minutes/acre, this was achieved over most of the farm, so we are both sure that so long as there is not a repeat performance of the dreadful weather we will hit this target over the whole farm next autumn.
"There is scope for a further tightening up of our management, this should squeeze even more cash out of both fixed and variable costs to boost profitability," Rupert Brown says. *
• Partnership farms 2200ha (5500 acres).
• Two-thirds is heavy land the rest lighter soil.
• Min-till approach used on heavy land, ploughing retained for roots on lighter land.
• Fixed costs cut by £100/ha (£40/acre).
• Time to establish wheat cut to 47mins/ha (19/acre).