Year-round service is aim
It is all quiet on the field
work front, which gives our
East Anglian Contractors
Comment contributor Robert
Self time to discuss his
plans for the expansion of
THE end of the sugar beet campaign concludes a long season for Suffolk contractor Robert Self. At the end of December, the machinery went into the workshop and the casual staff laid off until drilling starts in March.
It is a gap in the firms work schedule Mr Self intends to fill by expanding his operations into the vegetable and root crop sectors.
"We are in the middle of an area where crops such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips are grown on a large scale. Next winter we intend to offer a destoning and bed forming service, operations we have been planning for the last couple of years," he says.
Mr Self sees the move as critical to improving cashflow through the generation of income in a traditionally quiet period and – as importantly – to holding on to his skilled operators.
"A price tag of £250,000 for a self-propelled sugar beet harvester does not guarantee its performance, it is only as good as the driver," he points out.
"I believe contractors have to really think about holding on to experienced staff if they are to give their customers a consistently reliable service of the standard they expect.
"We have four regular drivers throughout the season – two staff, two casual – which effectively runs from March to December.
"From Christmas, however, with our current workload, only machine maintenance keeps our staff busy, we have to lay the two casual drivers off and hope they will be available for the start of drilling. They have been so far but it is by no means a certainty.
"With the vegetable work we will be able to keep them on throughout the year."
Mr Self has also given more thought to adding combine harvesting to the businesss portfolio in the long term.
"Combining definitely has potential as farmers in this area with 300-600 acres of cereals are finding it increasingly difficult to justify tying up capital in a new or second-hand harvester.
"But to give a reliable service, I think we would have to offer a variation of the deal we offer our beet growers. In return for a realistically commercial rate we can restrict the acreage we cut and draw up a schedule in which the customer is allotted a guaranteed harvesting date."
But the winter has not all been spent in crystal ball gazing.
There has also been investment in new equipment, a 17t Larrington Majestic trailer which saw service alongside a Vervaet self-propelled harvester during the beet campaign.
"We are extremely pleased with the Majestic," says Mr Self.
"Its payload enabled the harvesters tank to be emptied completely – which we cannot do with the 12t dumpers – so it could keep going at full capacity in the wet conditions.
"I dont think we have seen the trailers full benefit yet – in good lifting conditions it will definitely increase the harvesters output."
In addition to being thoroughly overhauled, the rest of the machinery has also come in for its annual review. As a result, this season will see some new colours on the fleet.
"We need to increase the output of the grass cutting equipment from its present 70 acres/day to 90 acres/day, so a 5m Kuhn Alterna is replacing the 6m John Deere 1360 front/228 rear combination, which we use behind the 125hp JD 6810.
"Although the Kuhn has a narrower cut, the extra output will come from upping the power input by running it behind the 175hp JD 7810.
"It also has the advantage of leaving the grass in two 2.5m swaths, which I think will be better for wilting and tedding." *
Base: Grange Farm, All Saints Road, Creeting St Mary, Ipswich (01449-722711).
Work undertaken: Sugar beet drilling and harvesting, maize drilling and harvesting, grass silaging, medium density straw baling, rape swathing, whole crop silaging.
Current machinery fleet: Four John Deere tractors (110-175hp), 410hp John Deere self-propelled forager, two Krone BigPack 880 balers, two self-propelled beet harvesters, Shelbourne Reynolds Mentor rape swather, Arcusin bale trailer, John Deere 1360 and 228 mowers, plus associated tackle.
Labour: Two full-time staff and up to 12 casuals at peak periods.