Friday, December 15, 2017

Contract business is robust foundation for arable operation

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles

MidFrmr-April2017-SimonHazard

AJ Hazard Farms has gone from strength to strength in the five years since Midland Farmer visited Garthorpe Lodge, near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. Simon Wragg reports.

Arable farming remains the foundation for Simon Hazard’s business interests – but it is non-farming developments that have helped build a more robust operation.

A half share in Rutland Contracting – a venture started with Daniel North – has yielded better returns than the 1010ha (2500ac) arable farming operation. And this success has mirrored the expansion of farm-based metal working business New K Fabrications.

“It’s all complimentary to farming,” says Mr Hazard. “Rutland Contracting undertakes a lot of estate work such as track laying, hedge and ditch management. Other projects have included constructing gallops right through to building new commercial premises.”

A move into amenity and landscape management followed shortly thereafter. Working relationships with other companies include Peter Lord Forestry, which undertakes woodland management for clients such as Centre Parcs. It has also developed helping utilise specialist kit such as an hydraulic tree shearer mounted on one of Rutland’s 13t Hitachi excavators.

“It made sense to move into plant hire as both Dan and I had equipment and I knew my kit was under-utilised. We now have two staff employed and offer excavator hire ranging from 2.7t-13t and all the associated kit,” he explains.

Buildings

Reinforcing the cross-over with farming, work has been completed for John Deere main dealer Sharmans Agricultural including erecting additional combine storage and machinery-related buildings.

Relationships with clients are built on a reputation for delivering a quality finish, suggests Mr Hazard, with word-of-mouth recommendations driving enquiries. But that is not to say developments in arable operations are on the back-foot.

Focus has been given to evaluating technologies used for optimising inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and sprays. “For example, we’ve moved away from using Yara’s N-sensor. I could see the benefits for oilseed rape but they were less obvious for wheat (which covers a larger acreage).”

Delivering tangible improvements in margins for farming customers and partners has instead seen a shift to soil-based input management charged on an acreage basis. “We are working with Yorkshire-based Soyl Precision Management across 100ha in 2017 using satellite imagery rather than real-time data to improve the use of inputs.”

Key investment

The purchase of a John Deere self-propelled R4040i 4000-litre sprayer fitted with a 30m boom has been a key investment. Recommendations from crop agronomists Stuart Pick of Farmacy and David Frobisher of Frontier will be entered into crop management software GateKeeper and uploaded via interface MyJohnDeere.com to generate a work
programme for the spray operator.

“One of the benefits of using this new software is the automation of field and spray records,” explains Mr Hazard. “When you’re doing about 30,000acres/year that makes a huge difference to workload. The operator has to manually input weather data and that’s about it.”

Other factors have been considered ahead of the R4040i’s purchase. Replacing a trailed sprayer has freed up a tractor for use in busy periods such as early harvest when spraying off oilseed rape clashes with a need to haul cereals.

Changes to the acreage farmed and support payment regulations has influenced today’s crop rotation of wheat, barley, oilseed rape, wheat and beans. Ground is deep ploughed in front of beans with ‘low disturbance’ cultivations preceding follow-on cereal crops.

“As we’re drilling later as a cultural control for managing weeds such as blackgrass we’ve also invested in a six-meter combination drill to run in conjunction with a larger Vaderstad. It gives more flexibility to get across acres if ground conditions are not suited to a larger machine.”

Tangible benefits

Min-till, variable rate seed and fertiliser applications, and yield mapping continue to feature with a caveat that benefits must be tangible. Mr Hazard is wary of over-using technology for technology’s sake. “Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.”

Tangible benefits from recent investments include New K’s purchase of a Computer Navigation Cutter (CNC) used to produce shaped metal plates for fabrication (including a castle made for a school homework project).

Biomass boilers have also been installed to heat workshop space, the farm’s 1600t crop drying stores, and offices. “We are also working with Intelligent Green Energy which has a steam-driven auto-clave here on-site which will be used in an AD-plant to help process straw (enabling cellular lignin to be broken down).

“Our aim is to continue growing the business with opportunities for Rutland Contracting and New K Fabrications offering more scope at present than increasing the area of arable farmed,” he suggests.

 

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