Good storm of value rises inflicting carnage for Devon contractors

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Contractors are the supermarkets. Farmers are the supermarkets’ clients. And equipment makers are the supermarkets’ suppliers.

Sure, it’s a weird analogy. However let’s run with it… in relation to contractor expenses for hedgecutting.

“The hedgecutting job is sort of a grocery store’s end-of-aisle loss chief,” says Richard Barrow, who, together with Andrew Patt, manages A&B Contractors.

“We at the moment cost £45/hour for hedging, whereas the usual fee for simply the tractor, driver and gas is £50/hr. So, we’re successfully dropping £5/hour every time we exit with a trimmer.”

See additionally: Final information to purchasing a tractor 2023

A&B’s dilemma is that, with another one-man bands within the space pricing the job at a decrease fee, £45/hour is the utmost the agency can cost to stay aggressive. In impact, it’s a loss-leader.

Two men stood next to a tractor cab

Richard Barrow (left) and Andrew Patt © Andrew Faulkner

“The place we differ from the omnipotent supermarkets,” provides Andrew, “is that we are able to’t return to our suppliers and demand they drop their costs to fund our end-of-aisle promotion.

“Think about the response if we went to McConnel and informed them that, for the privilege of constant to provide us with a £20,000 hedgecutter, they wanted to supply us with three machines at simply £5,000 apiece.”

Whereas dropping £5/hour is clearly unsustainable, charging extra carries the danger of shoppers going elsewhere and probably transferring their different contracting operations, too.

Which is basically why A&B nonetheless affords the service, in addition to serving to to maintain workers totally employed over the quieter winter months.

A&B Contractors, Porte Farm, Kentisbury, Barnstaple, Devon

Fundamental companies Contract farming supplying home-grown maize, wholecrop, cereals and straw; 3,850ha grass silage; 485ha wholecrop silage; 365ha maize drilling and harvesting; 570ha combining; 30,000 spherical bales; 9,500 sq. bales; ploughing and drilling; shoot plot institution, upkeep and aftercare; umbilical slurry injecting/spreading with nurse tank; muck and biosolids spreading; vacuum tanking with dribble bar

Different Eight-strong haulage fleet; concrete and groundwork companies; timber processing and harvesting

Workers 23 full-time on the ag enterprise, as much as 60 throughout seasonal peaks

Machine costs v charges

Strain on charge-out charges additionally applies to extra specialist work akin to maize drilling.

Right here is an easy instance that explains why A&B prefers to take care of and run £30,000 seeders reasonably than put money into a high-spec £100,000 unit.

At a charge-out fee of £64/ha, a £100,000 maize drill has the potential to earn £20,480 throughout a 320ha season.

When you then subtract the tractor, operator and gas prices of £5,700 (£50/hour x 114 hours, assuming a piece fee of two.8ha/hour), the maize drill’s annual revenue drops to £14,780.

To set towards this, there’s the price of the funding. Dropping 20% yearly in worth over 5 years, the £100,000 drill’s depreciation cost is about £14,000/12 months, leaving simply £780 to cowl finance, carrying components and a margin.

“And that’s why we don’t put money into £100,000 maize drills,” says Richard. “The figures merely don’t stack up.

“It’s a lot the identical for giant sq. balers, which once more are priced new at about £100,000. Our machines are 10-15 years previous and, whereas we are able to maintain them going, that’s what we’ll do.

“Though we’d prefer to improve the balers, north Devon’s small fields and topography don’t enable us to realize the kind of outputs required to justify the funding in new equipment. And the older machines nonetheless do the job.”

Tractor working at night

© Andrew Faulkner

Present workload

On the time of our go to in late Might, A&B was part-way by means of its 1,500ha first-cut workload.

The grass silaging season had kicked off on the typical time in mid-April, however then a 14-day break for climate had put them behind.

The knock-on impact of this delay, mixed with an increase in temperatures, was a large improve in crop bulk – about 50% up on the common.

“For 3 of our common clients we needed to return the following day with balers, as a result of we couldn’t get all their crop within the clamp,” says Andrew.

Not so welcome for the contractor was the hefty crop’s related improve in gas use. “In a 140-acre day, the forager would usually get by means of 700-800 litres, however this 12 months we had been burning as much as 1,300 litres.”

Which once more brings the charge-out fee into query. A&B is transferring to charging by the cubic metre for umbilical slurry work, because it makes extra sense for each the client and contractor.

So, why not swap to an analogous per-tonne pricing construction for foraging?

“I don’t assume our clients would go for it. And, in contrast to the umbilical move meters, I’m not that assured within the yield measuring know-how on foragers – to the extent that we didn’t spec it on the brand new 8600 final 12 months, regardless of having it on the earlier machine.

“We opted to spend the cash on additional horsepower as a substitute,” says Richard.

Chopping a heavy first cut

© Andrew Faulkner


Machine repairs stay an ongoing concern, though this spring introduced solely two main breakdowns of observe.

First up, the Kuhn butterfly rig. A bearing in one of many rear mowers failed, destroying the mattress within the course of. Panic ensued.

Kuhn was quoting a two- to three-week provide time for a brand new mattress, whereas the John Deere various – Kuhn builds mowers in inexperienced for Deere – was on a one-month supply.

So, A&B went with Kuhn. Apparently, the Kuhn mattress was £3,200, whereas precisely the identical mattress from Deere listed at £4,000.

Extra painfully, the agency’s John Deere 6130R loader tractor determined to drop its diff bolts into the crown and pinion, leading to a £12,000 invoice for a brand new diff.

Sadly, the tractor was simply out of guarantee, though Deere has agreed to contribute in the direction of the price.

The second incident explains why A&B prefers to maneuver on its mainline tractors whereas they’re nonetheless lined by the producer’s guarantee, prolonged lead instances permitting.

Powerful farming local weather

In impact, the present powerful farming local weather is creating the right storm for all contractors. And A&B isn’t any totally different.

Its largely combined farming clients are understandably nervous on the prospect of milk and cereal costs persevering with to fall, inflated enter costs, phased cuts of their Primary Cost Scheme cash and rising rates of interest.

On the identical time, contractors’ labour charges have gone up, and annual new gear value hikes of 5-8% are commonplace.

“We actually don’t need to be spreading doom and gloom. However one thing has to alter,” says Andrew.

“The business can’t proceed with equipment costs and enter prices heading in a single course, farming incomes going the opposite, and contractors caught within the center.

“The constructive is that we’ll adapt. There are at all times alternatives on the market for contractors who’re ready to be versatile — and to chop their fabric accordingly.”

Equipment listing

  • Tractors John Deere 6R215, 6195R (x3), 6155R (x8), 6830, 6630, 6140M, 6130R with loader; New Holland T7210 (x4); JCB Fastrac 4220
  • Combines John Deere T550 (x2)
  • Foragers John Deere 8600 and 7380i
  • Forage wagons Pottinger Torro (x2)
  • Handlers JCB 541-70, 536-60 and 531-70; Hyundai skid-steer
  • Sprayers Bateman RB35 (36m/4,000-litre); Kuhn 12m mounted; Hardi 24m mounted
  • Drills 2.5m, 3m and 4m mixture drills; Vaderstad 4m Fast drill; Moore direct drill; Hatzenbichler 6m air seeder; Accord 12-row fodder beet drill; Kuhn eight-row maize drill; Accord six-row maize drill
  • Diggers JCB 3CX; eight swing shovels 0.5t to 22t
  • Fundamental different equipment Mower mixture (x3), sq. balers (x3), spherical balers (x4), rakes (x4), wrappers, silage trailers (x10), fertiliser spreaders (x2), ploughs (x4), slurry tankers (x5), muckspreaders (x10) and various umbilical gear


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