Sunday, October 21, 2018

One man went to mow

May 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles


North Herefordshire farmer and contractor Anthony Marfell is making a success out of silage – for himself and for others. Simon Wragg reports.

Learning to throttle back and ensure those at the clamp face can achieve good compaction of ensiled forage is key to the success of Anthony Marfell’s contracting business.

“I always think you should do the job as you would back at home,” says Mr Marfell, who focuses on foraging operations within a 15-mile radius (and up to 35 miles for arable work) of Upper Wall End Farm, Monkland, near Leominster.

“As a farmer myself, I know what we put into a clamp is a farm’s feed for the whole year. Getting it right is paramount. You’re never going to farm the world. Yes, it’s good to have capacity in your forager for when you need it but it takes an experienced operator to know when to throttle back.”

With 151ha (375 acres) of arable and grassland at home supporting crops of winter wheat, oats, oilseed rape, maize, whole-crop and a flock of 300 North Country Mules and Suffolk ewes, his contracting experience has been founded on day-to-day farming.

“I came home in 2000 from Wye College, Kent. There was insufficient land to support two families. Fortunately, I was asked to help out with potato planting and lifting locally. That opened an opportunity to buy a Case MX135 providing income and helping subsidise machinery at home.”


Working with parents Richard and Marie, the business has progressed. Potatoes remained a seasonal mainstay for over a decade during which time the late spring and summer was filled with foraging work. “In 2004, local contractor Robert Speakman sold up and I bought his forager, a few trailers and took on some of his customers.”

A full range of forage services are offered – mowing, raking, chopping, carting and ensiling – depending on what each individual customer requires. As acreage and reputation grew, changes to the equipment followed.

A move to a self-propelled forager came shortly after 2010 with the purchase of a second-hand 09-plate John Deere 7850 from local main dealer Tallis Amos. “It was a very capable machine but having moved on to a 8600 the improvement in forager design is easy to see.

“The flow of material is so much better and key operations like resetting the shear bar and sharpening the cutting heads is done from the cab at the touch of a button,” he explains. “It’s just a better operator’s machine.”

The 625hp 8600 – backed with a manufacturer’s PowerGard warranty – allows Mr Marfell to service around 1000ha (2500ac) of grass silage and 400ha (1000ac) of maize annually for both livestock and biogas users.

Chop length

“The big difference between the two is chop length,” he explains. “Anaerobic digester plants want a 5mm chop for maize and livestock farms prefer 19-25mm.”

A suggested capacity of 350t fresh-weight maize/hour places a big demand on fuel use. While operating cost has eased in recent months (red derv has edged back from 70ppl to below 50ppl) a forager is a hungry beast capable of consuming 1100 litres/day.

“In that respect the 8600 is more fuel efficient than the 7850.”

Recent investments include purchasing a 6m whole-crop header capable of handling cereals, bi-crops and rye. Baling is offered using a Hesston 2190 six-string unit for both forage and straw, explains Mr Marfell.

“From late May we’ll be out five days a week if the weather’s right either foraging or baling through to late July. Straw then kicks in and we’re onto arable operations until maize harvesting starts in October.”

The business – EB Marfell & Son – employs the help of regular self-employed drivers using either the company’s fleet of John Deeres (7530, 6190R and 2151R) or their own often coupled to 16t Bailey trailers running on floatation tyres to help protect soil structure.

On the arable side some operations are not covered – spraying and combining, principally. “We focus on cultivation work including ploughing and drilling. Everything is supported by in-cab RTK and GPS positioning.

Heavier soils

“This area’s known for heavier soils so we offer both conventional ploughing and min-till. We run an Amazone combination drill fitted with discs instead of Suffolk coulters which proved itself in wet years such as 2012.”

Future developments may include purchasing a maize drill (currently contracted in) having already purchased a seeder for the min-till cultivator used for planting around 240ha (600ac) of sheep keep and rape annually.

“Given we also see a lot of slug damage from autumn to spring a Mule-type 4×4 with a pelleter may also be purchased.  As a contractor your reputation is only as good as your last job. I’m a firm believer that if the job’s done as you’d want it on your own farm then that’s a good benchmark.”

“There’s room to expand foraging but I’m not one for treading on toes. If someone calls and needs help I will try to accommodate them. We may not be the cheapest but doing a good job and making sure costs are covered is more important that chasing acres.”

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