A young farmer keen to develop his contracting business has made the switch from using second-hand tractors to new machines to control costs and present a professional image to customers.
Anthony Wilkes of P&D Engineering, Bredon, Glos, hands over the keys to Andrew (centre) and Roger Lane.
“Buying used tractors with 2500 to 3000 hours on them was fine when we were building up the contracting service,” says Andrew Lane. “But now I’d rather spend money on finance for new tractors instead of repair bills for older ones.”
Andrew Lane Contracting operates alongside cropping and beef production at Chaceley Hall Farm near Tewkesbury, Glos. Contract services were started in a small way to help justify machinery needed to cope with heavy land that has to be worked in ideal conditions; but now, it’s a significant enterprise in its own right.
“We do pretty much everything apart from spraying,” Andrew points out. “Grass and maize chopping are the biggest jobs, but we also do a lot of combining and handle muck spreading, hay and silage baling, and a small amount of ploughing and combination drilling.”
He admits that investment in new equipment for the farm and contracting business “went a bit mad” last year but is part of a drive to modernise for efficiency, better performance and greater cost control.
The biggest spend has gone into three new McCormick tractors supplied by Bredon-based machinery dealer P&D Engineering, marking a switch from their previous policy of buying used.
“Cost control was one of the main considerations,” says Andrew. “Once you get beyond 3000 hours the risk of breakdowns and sizeable repair bills seems to increase. By financing new tractors and buying extended warranty insurance, our costs are pretty much fixed over the time we’ll keep them.”
Fuel cost is the other big issue: “In just the couple of days we tried out P&D’s demonstrator it became apparent that the McCormick was using less fuel than the John Deere tractors we ran before,” Andrew explains.
“That impression has been borne out by the fuel consumption we’ve seen since we started running the new tractors,” he adds. “I expected them to be better but I’ve been surprised at just how much less fuel they’re using to do the same work.”
Out in the field, the eight powershift steps provided by the XtraSpeed transmission of the McCormick XTX (right) is handy when operating on hilly ground and when hauling a heavily laden trailer or spreader on the road. Engine ‘boost’ gives added power and torque for pto-driven implements.Three different models were chosen to more or less match the previous tractors – the new-generation MTX135 at 133hp maximum output comes with a simple four range, four-speed powershift transmission giving 16 forward and 12 reverse ratios in all.
In addition to trailer work, its main roles include fertiliser spreading and ploughing with a five furrow reversible – which Andrew says it handles perfectly well, even on the heavy land. Relatively narrow tyres enable this tractor to easily run in the furrow bottom and along tramlines.
The two McCormick XTX tractors are more generously equipped to help put down their higher power and torque outputs.
The XTX165 musters up to 165hp for draft work and 171hp when the ‘power boost’ system automatically kicks in for pto and transport duties; the latter figure matches the XTX185’s draft work output, with up to 183hp available when pulling a trailer or powering a pto-driven implement.
Jobs earmarked for the XTX165 include trailer work and mowing with either a 9ft mounted machine or a 10ft trailed – Andrew has given up on front-rear combinations because of the number of times front mowers have smashed into hidden obstructions that customers forgot to mention.
The more powerful tractor handles the 3m combination sowing outfit and a big buckrake on its front linkage for filling silage clamps – the XTX165 is similarly equipped to perform the same role if necessary.
Both XTX models have the ‘M’ version of the 32 x 24 XtraSpeed transmission, which means the eight powershift steps are selected by flicking a thumb switch on the side of the four-speed range selector rather than by pushing a button.
“You can have the XtraSpeed with powered range shifting using a seat-mounted joystick that also comes with linkage control buttons and electric remote valves,” notes Andrew. “But we chose the simplest specification because we need a tractor that seasonal drivers, including customers’ own men sometimes, can jump on and use without a lot of instruction or time spent getting used to things.”
The lack of ‘excessive electronics’ also helped sway the decision in favour of the McCormick machines over the Claas and New Holland tractors that were evaluated.
“With the MTX and XTX we’ve got all the features we need without too much complication,” Andrew adds.
He particularly likes the smooth riding characteristics of the implement linkage damper, the hydraulic cab suspension and independent front wheel suspension, as well as the flexibility provided by the eight-speed powershift of the XTX tractors.
“We operate on some very banky ground, so working speed can be quite variable, especially when side-loading from the forage harvester,” explains Andrew. “With eight powershift steps, you’ve plenty of scope to hit the right speed without having to go for a range change.”
In addition to a finance package that spreads the cost of purchasing the tractors, Andrew chose the full Platinum Plus breakdown insurance scheme available with all McCormick purchases.
This covers labour and parts costs should the engine, transmission, hydraulics or electrical system suffer a major failure, explains Anthony Wilkes of P&D Engineering.
“A particular feature of the scheme is that operators can choose between two levels of cover – just drivetrain or the full package,” he points out. “There’s also a lot of flexibility with the hours and duration, so users signing up to the scheme can strike a balance between risk and premium depending on how their tractor is used.”
The main attraction for Andrew Lane is that it eliminates the unpleasant financial shocks that can arise when running older tractors.
“As we develop the contracting side by investing in equipment to provide a better and more efficient service it’s good to know we’ll have those costs under control,” he says.
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