Monday, May 20, 2019

Farmers benefit from expanding groundcare firm

May 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

Accuracy, timeliness and site safety are equally applicable to the farming and construction industries, says Max Pickerill of Specialised Groundcare. Simon Wragg reports.

Owner Max Pickerill has agriculture at the core of his Nottinghamshire business which also takes on construction and land clearance contracts nationwide. Now the business is expanding its services using laser and GPS technologies – and farming clients are set to benefit.

“Grassland and establishing arable crops has always been part of the business but we are growing the site clearance and ground-care side significantly due to demand from construction and highway customers,” says Mr Pickerill.

Operations are undertaken with a full time team which includes Frank Richardson, Luke North and Hugh Pickerill – with administrative support provided by Beatrice Humphries from the company’s base at Costock, between Nottingham and Loughborough.

Removing vegetation from sites ear-marked for housing has gained the company many new contracts but often demands short lead-in times and very quick turnarounds, says Mr Pickerill. “It’s not uncommon to be called in to quote and start a couple of days later.”

Like farming, construction is governed by ecological factors. For example, the first quarter of the year before bird nesting is hectic, as developers work to set up sites before restrictions come into force to protect wildlife. “It can be as busy as a farmer’s harvest,” he reflects.

Tractors and excavators remain key to the operation. A trailed Heizohack chipper has been purchased to process trees into G30 biomass chip – some for resale – using one of two Bobcat E62 6.5t excavators fitted with Steelwrist rotating heads and TMK shears to cut and handle timber.

Flexible service

“The Steelwrist gives the machines phenomenal flexibility when working in the confines of forestry and highway settings.

“Across all sectors we find site safety is paramount. Operators are now required to have critical medical assessments and have CPCS cards. We also undertake all the necessary Health & Safety paperwork which most customers now demand for insurance purposes.”

Expansion of site work has seen the replacement of a track loader with a Bobcat T870 fitted with a laser-guided six-way grading blade. This provides a level of accuracy when preparing sites for both farm, residential and commercial buildings. 

Establishing subsoil levels accurately and efficiently with the laser minimises unnecessary use of sub-straights such as crushed stone when preparing bases. This helps contain construction costs across all sectors, it is suggested.

“We do a number of pads for farm buildings each year as well as complete build if required. We work in conjunction with suppliers of the steel frame buildings and other services such as electricians. We can manage the project from start to finish,” he explains.

Growth sector

“As the demand for housing seems to be unstoppable it’s likely more agricultural and brown field sites will be cleared ahead of construction. We certainly see it as a sector for growth. And because customers often want a very quick turnaround we have picked up work as far south as Essex.”

Contact with a local haulage firm ensures equipment is delivered to site efficiently and often back at the company’s Costock base within a week. “The ability to be able to mobilise quickly and complete a job to the customer’s satisfaction and within deadline is paramount.”

The development of services within construction and agriculture are complimentary, he suggests. Being able to utilise equipment across both sectors helps spread overheads and maintain competitive prices for work undertaken.

Land-based contracts has seen a purchase of an Axion 830 Cmatic with auto steer and GPS to help with low disturbance drilling of spring and winter crops and in-season operations such as the application of sprays and fertilisers.

“We’ve invested in auto-steer and guidance technologies to help specifically with the application of Avadex to counter black grass; a growing problem for many farms.”

On-farm, the equipment can provide a resource for clearance and management of established hedgerows including blackthorn helping reduce labour significantly.

‘One-stop shop’

The aim is to offer a ‘one-stop shop’ for customers to establish cereal and grassland crops. Amenity and equine customers are served using 140hp Arion 530 and John Deere 3045R with a 400-litre sprayer suited to smaller paddocks and headlands.

“We continue to do a lot of paddock and field fencing. A Protec post knocker fitted to a compact tractor has proved very versatile for working in confined spaces or undertaking more modest contracts for fence replacement and repairs. “For larger contracts we work with a local contractor with a high capacity post knocker.”

New opportunities are always sought. Developing side by side services helps the business remain busy throughout the farming and construction calendar. We look to recover as much chip for biomass as possible. It has a value and can help with pricing up contracts.”

Elsewhere, Specialised Groundcare has been proactive in working with larger contractors on highway clearance works helping heave back vegetation and remove tree and other foliage during night-time closures.

It’s a very different discipline to working within agriculture and can often be beset by down-time caused by unforeseen administrative or ecological constraints, he explains.

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