Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pulling power

August 2, 2016 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

JD481626  138086

Hiring a tractor might be cheaper than buying one, but Clodhopper still likes to drive his own machine.

Not so long ago, a straightforward purchase was the norm when buying a tractor. You paid cash on delivery, which then turned into a 0% finance deal or a one-plus-two annual payment with a little interest added on. Life was relatively simple. Everyone was happy.

But that has all changed. Low commodity prices and uncertainty over post-Brexit support for agriculture mean everything is in a state of flux. And until prospects become clearer, the time for further penny-pinching has arrived – at least when it comes to farm machinery.

To hire or to buy? Well, as an example, let’s look at a typical main farm tractor working 750 to 1,000 hours per season. To buy a tractor will cost more than £100,000 – especially if you want a machine with front linkage, front PTO and guidance ready.

Instead, I asked two firms about a 10-week hire and obtained the following quotes: My main tractor dealer wanted £800 per week for a 220 horse power, whereas a full-time hire specialist wanted £720, £730 and £750 for similar sized tractors but all different colours.

I’m rather disorganised and perhaps the higher prices reflected a late enquiry. Had I broached the subject six months ago, I could have saved myself some money. But none of the tractors could be supplied with guidance – which is unfortunate as these days I can’t drive straight without it.

Promising

Financially, though, the benefits of hire look promising. Machinery hire can be put against taxable income and the cost of any expensive breakdown falls on the supplier’s shoulders with a replacement machine delivered to the field within 24 hours.

Had I been more organised, a 10-week hire would have got me the spec I wanted and a nearly new machine – without any repair bills. It is a very tempting offer and perhaps therefore unsurprising that many farms now hire in all or most of their main machines.

There are other advantages too. If your farm requires the services of part-time staff, then the hire fleet is probably the best way forward. If you want to purchase your own tractors and expect casual staff to look after them then you may be looking at an expensive problem.

Being an owner-driver, my main concern is that I expect high standards. If they drop, it is not a happy ship – and that is putting it bluntly. A brand new tractor standing in the yard is a special event. New cars do not interest me but a new tractor earns me money.

Owner-drivers like me all have our little funny ways. After taking delivery of a new tractor, it is nice to move my essentials into the pristine cab and put everything in its proper place – including my pen, pencil, notebook, calculator and mobile phone.

Loyal

It is probably why I have remained loyal to one particular colour tractor – I know everything will fit into its own place. My cab is neat and tidy and I find it reassuring that if I start off clean and tidy, somehow the tractor reflects my state of mind and the job goes well.

Perhaps it is the first step towards insanity. But many times I have helped a neighbour, sitting in their tractor beside a half-opened toolbox, spanners under my feet, a can of WD40 that sprays every time I sit down and a steering wheel and gear lever covered grease. Those jobs never go well.

Usually there is dust everywhere and a back window held shut by a cardboard wedge to boot. It is no way to look after a tractor – not even for a livestock farmer. One-man one-tractor is my motto and it has always worked for me.

Servicing

Bear in mind too that it takes time and organisation to service a tractor and do the job right. If one man drives and looks after that tractor, everything is done on time. With multiple drivers, everybody assumes somebody else has done the servicing – and then breakdowns ensue.

Of course, fewer people these days pay cash on delivery for tractors – it’s an awful lot of money all at once. Thankfully, hire or lease purchase allows you to pay off the full amount over a set period – and provided you stick to the agreement, the machine is then yours.

I’m reluctant to change the habit of a lifetime. I like owning my main tractor – even though, as my accountant points out, there are probably better deals out there. But giving up ownership in favour of hire is not an easy decision – even if it makes financial sense.

As a result, I will be an owner-driver for a good few years yet.

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