Friday, October 19, 2018

New technology brings benefits to farmer and contractor

March 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles


Investment in technology can be expensive – but it pays off when it improves farm efficiency. 

Growers are in dire need of a single Isobus-style interface to marry up the array of map-based land and crop management software packages used to apply inputs and operate machinery efficiently, says Herefordshire farmer and contractor Martin Williams.

Based at Tump Farm, Fownhope, Herefordshire, MW Farming has become an all encompassing family affair since Martin’s wife, Penny, and father-in-law Tony Dudfield joined the business both having spent no little time involved in the establishment and running of Case, Fendt and JCB main dealership Ross Farm Machinery (RFM).

Mr Williams explains: “My grandfather came here in the 1920s so I’m the third generation to farm at The Tump. Having started with 450ac of arable and grassland, today we farm 830ha of cereals and 110ha of grassland under various arrangements whilst providing key services.

“These include drilling, combining, hay and silage work, lime and fertiliser spreading, crop spraying, spreading sewage cake for Welsh water, selling hay and straw off our own farm and from a large neighbouring estate into Wales, having sheep on B&B over winter as well as undertaking amenity work for councils.”

Both families have been at the cutting edge of machinery innovation, he suggests. “Grandfather had the first MF30 drill in the area which was sadly still here until the 1980s – it was like Trigger’s broom.”

Today the firm runs a fleet of modern Fendt tractors and machinery loaded with technology – RTK, GPS, auto steer, weigh cells, variable rate seed and fertiliser application. “And while I would like nothing better to occasionally sit on a tractor all day I’m often stuck in front of a computer screen trying to get conflicting pieces of software to work together.

“Without an Isobus-like interface (the universally adopted protocol for e-comms taking place between tractors, implements and office-based computer software) you end up putting the same information in time and time again.”

To ensure farm inputs are used efficiently, circa £30,000 has been invested in machinery mounted technologies such as variable rate applicators for seed, fertiliser and spray.

Strongest signal

The use of roaming SIMs – phone network cards which latch on to the strongest signal at any given location – enable data communication between operators out in the field and the firm’s main office . “It comes at quite a cost – around £1200/annum in SIM charges alone – which is difficult to allocate back to customers,” he suggests.

But despite the frustration associated with technology it has to be said that boys do like their toys. And Herefordshire, suggests Mr Dudfield, is a micro climate all of its own with demand for the latest kit driven by of the richness of the county’s cropping driven initially by potato production. “When growers are making money they’ll invest in modern equipment, but they want it to be reliable.”

This comment is soon met with a retort from his son-in-law questioning the need for and existence of four-figure extended warranty packages for modern high horsepower tractors.

The real challenge for machinery operators, says Mr Williams, is keeping tabs on smaller variable expenses such as tines, bearings, nuts and bolts. “It’s death by a thousand cuts,” he says.

Fortunately, Penny is immersed in the monitoring of the business. It’s not new ground having been company secretary at RFM for two decades preceding her father’s retirement.

Crossing the metaphorical fence from machinery sales to machine operator has been an eye-opener for Mr Dudfield. Differences between actual day-to-day performance over that promoted by manufacturers is often apparent. “But if there’s one development that’s been a real step-change it’s vario-type (rather than power-shift) transmissions; it’s what we call a Lexion moment,” he reflects

Tractor fleet

Ironically, Mr Dudfield uses the older and more basic model in the company’s tractor fleet – a Case Maxxum 140 – for duties that include hedge-cutting, topping, raking and tedding.

Other kit includes a Fendt 936 tractor, two 724s, and a 718. A JCB 414 loader and 536 tele-handler sit alongside a Househam Air Ride 24m sprayer with a Claas 760 TT tracked combine arriving in time for the 2017 harvest.

Cultivation equipment is geared to min-till operations although deep ploughing is undertaken with a Kuhn Multi-master fitted with slatted boards. A five-metre Discaerator and three-meter Sumo Trio (used on heavier ground and fitted with a oilseed rape seed applicator) are used widely along with a variable rate Horsch Pronto six-metre drill.

The firm’s Bredal KRM K85 10t capacity spreader running on floatation tyres handles both lime and Fibrophos across arable and grassland. Potato ground is prepared using a Scanstone triple bed tiller owned by a local grower but operated behind the Fendt 936, explains Mr Williams.

“We also undertake whole-farm contracting like that which allows a neighbour to concentrate on more profitable edge-of-town developments. Why spent 80% of your time looking after something that could be a marginal crop?” he suggests.

But time is a precious commodity for farmers and contractors alike. “Finding an Isobus solution to integrate mapping software would be a Lexion moment all of its own,” he says.


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