Sunday, November 19, 2017

Contractor spreads the load for customers

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Profiles

MidFrmr-080817-Childes

Delivering a top quality service is key to success when spreading nutrients, says Ian Childe. Simon Wragg reports.

Ian Childe has spent over 20 years building a dedicated delivery and spreading service for lime, manure and bio-solids serving over 400 farms across the West Midlands and neighbouring counties.

Based near Ludlow, Ian Childe Agricultural Services was founded on spreading lime to farmland, apple orchards, asparagus beds and blackcurrants for R&T Liming, now part of the Agrii group). It later branched out to include farmyard manure, waste water by-products, poultry litter and liquid manures for farm and bio-energy customers across a 60-mile radius.

“The business became a dedicated deliver and spread service due to interpretation of rules for the use of red diesel,” explains Mr Childe. “If you simply haul product you can only use white diesel. Fuel costs would double for customers.

Traceability

“Tighter regulation on manure application and usage is likely. So the business offers traceability beyond what’s required. I can tell you historically which customer’s field has had what applied, on what date, at what rate and – in most cases – the typical nutrient analysis.”

Up to 100,000t of bio-solids – mainly sewage cake – is handled for the region’s water utilities plus a further 50,000t of clean water sludge from settlement tanks. Add to this 40,000t of poultry litter handled on behalf of Thames Valley Foods, 30,000t of lime, plus a growing tonnage of green compost for waste management company Veolia and the sheer size of the business becomes apparent.

“Customers are driven by the need for organic matter to improve soils, but they’re also coming to appreciate the nutrient and micro-nutrient content of the by-products,” he explains.

Nutrient details

For example, a 30t/ha (12t/ac) application of clean water sludge provides 55kg/ha of nitrogen (10% immediately available to the growing crop), 74kgs of phosphate (50% available), and 8kgs of potash (90% available) plus 7kgs of magnesium and 61kgs of sulphur.

“Prices do change from season to season depending on availability and the price of artificial fertiliser. Lime is pretty stable at around £23/t spread,” he explains.

The firm’s fleet of R-series John Deere tractors (plus a 70kph JCB Fastrac) are yoked to specially adapted Bunning high capacity spreaders for manure and solid waste products. “We use a 12t spreader chassis which is better suited to tight accesses and narrow lanes. These are adapted to take up to 18t of product.

“Weigh cells are used widely as is computer mapping. GPS and Google Maps are used by drivers to identify fields and areas within fields to be treated. Once a year customers are issued with a USB stick detailing what material has been applied and the associated nutrient analysis.

Technology

“Ironically, although we have variable rate technology available (it cost £9k/spreader to be fitted) only 25 out of 400 customers are set up for it themselves.”

A new addition to the fleet has been the purchase of a 16,000-litre Joskin tanker, he explains. Fitted with flow meters for accurate applications (down to 0.5m cu per field), this is married to a 4.5m Terraflex for applying slurry to stubbles or a 6.2m disc cutter for grassland. A 12m dribble bar is on order. “Across the fleet dealer support is essential,” he adds.

The emergence of bio-energy plants utilising poultry manure has brought change to the operation. And more is to follow, he believes. “Digestate will need to be taken away from the farms on which AD plants are based to avoid nutrient lock up,” he suggests.

Other factors have also begun to have effect. Biosecurity already plays a big part in the poultry manure operation, he explains. Separate trailers are used for layer and broiler sites serviced reducing the risk of spreading avian disease.

With changes to Basic Payment rules, the company has invested in ‘bog boards’ to access smaller, temporary in-field manure storage areas year around.

Business support

Alongside full-time admin support, Mr Childe’s wife, Julie, works outside the business running a successful wedding hire business – six full-time staff operate as separate teams for lime, bio-solids and poultry litter. “I am fortunate to have retained good staff who know there jobs well and undertake routine servicing.

“We really only get together over winter when each of the spreaders is stripped down and serviced fully here at our base at Bitterley. I’ve about outgrown this yard and looking out for new premises of about 20 acres with portal frame sheds for service work and storage.”

While working to reduce customers’ exposure to risk, the business has taken steps to mitigate its own – namely in the form of extended credit. “Cash-flow in a business of this size is paramount.

“Once an invoice is issued it is managed by my bank (a service known as factoring)  bringing much needed surety to the whole operation,” he suggests. “It has taken a lot of pressure out of running such a large business allowing me to focus on delivering a first rate spreading service to customers.”

 

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