Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Specialist contractor now spreading across the Midlands

July 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

A new joint venture from Mill Farm Ashorne is taking a hi-tech approach to fertiliser and nutrient spreading. Simon Wragg reports.

Using weigh cell and mapping technologies to apply lime, fertiliser and soil conditioner accurately is the latest service to be launched by Warwickshire-based specialist contractor Mill Farm Ashorne in a joint venture called Midlands Spreading.

Chris Gardner – who runs Mill Farm and associated equine services with parents John and Sue and his wife, Maddy – uses skills he puts to the test in the field of international motor-sport to ensure the venture achieves a podium finish for each customer.

Whether trackside or running tramlines, he learnt the marriage of software technology and easy-to-maintain mechanics can deliver a winning service. He explains: “We’ve looked at what a customer wants and built the new spreading service around that.”

Using a Fendt 724 from Lister Wilder at Southam coupled to a Agrispread AS100 10t spreader from Dales Agri in Cumbria, both machines have been selected for reliability, adds Chris.

Highly accurate

“A key feature of the AS100 is the excellent location of its four on-board weigh cells. These have proved to be highly accurate allowing the operator to monitor real time application rates on the move.

“Using an ISOBUS link set up with the spreader’s two ECUs, we can monitor and control applications from a Top Con touch screen in the 724’s cab. The system will provide reports to assist with invoicing and, if desired, for growers to fulfill regulatory records with software packages such as Gatekeeper.”

The new spreading service has been developed with Freddie Rolt – a relative – at Needham Chalks; a provider of lime, gypsum, soil conditioner and fertiliser. “Needham acts as the farmer-facing part of the service offering (soil) indices testing as well as supplying the material.”

Reducing risk of soil compaction during in-field operations has seen the 724 fitted with 710 rear tyres and 750 on the AS100 to reduce ground pressure whilst not compromising accessibility.

Versatile approach

“As the spreader is driven hydraulically using the 724’s optional high output oil pump and 3/4in supply line there’s no PTO to hinder turns at headlands,” Chris explains.

A rear mounted Moheda M50 crane from Warwick-based Fuelwood is being fitted to the Fendt eliminating the need for a tele-handler to help load. Operated from a hand-held control unit, the crane isn’t tied to a particular tractor and can be used for loading Mill Farm’s 8t Bunning muck spreader when in use.

While the AS100 embraces electronic controls to deliver material to the rear rotors, accessibility to mechanical components appeals to Chris’ engineering and motor-sport background – he works worldwide in technical support with Rebellion Racing which achieved success at this year’s 24-hour Le Mans, France. “It’s another attribute of the AS100 we like.”

Spreading lime to 12m and fertiliser to 24m behind arable crops has begun as combines clear this year’s harvest although some work will also be geared to grassland.

The new venture is seen as a good fit with existing grassland services offered by the company – a member of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors. These focus on establishing swards and getting them away to a good start, he explains.

Equine services

Alongside livestock farms, Mill Farm Ashorne has a foot-hold in the equine market serving local eventing facilities at Aston le Walls and racing stables around Newmarket (the family also breeds dressage horses providing services such as AI – supported by Hook Norton Vets – convalescence and retirement care).

“For equine and farming customers we’ve been running a Vredo 5.8m slot seeder for several seasons with success. Interestingly, it was developed in Holland in 1976 at the time of the drought and copes well in dry soils. We also have access to a 2.2m machine for smaller repairs or tight areas.”

While avoiding ‘overly congested’ areas of contracting such as foraging and baling, other services continue to expand, he explains. For example, hedge-cutting and coppice management (the business is a technical partner to manufacturer Spearhead).

“We now run a Twiga Flex 890T, Twiga Pro700T and XL8000 undertaking work for equestrian, farming, wildlife and utility businesses. We’ve found the 5ft quad-saw header to be very useful in coppice work or for clearing brash.

Environmental work

“The blades cope with material up to 8in in diameter; using a Steelwrist-style attachment allows greater manoeuvrability to tackle trunks up to 12in as we’ve seen in work for the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.”

To ensure all machinery is kept on track, warranty and service packages for the Fendt 724 and it sibling 828 are left in the hands of Lister Wilder and specialist diagnostic equipment.

“Everything else I am happy to put a spanner on or to use my knowledge of software to maintain,” says Chris who is keen to develop a contractor app to improve job cards, farm records and invoicing.

Other lessons from motor-sport help the contracting business run smoothly – including having a good rapport with suppliers. Expansion has created an opportunity for an engineering-minded technician to join Mill Farm Ashorne’s team.

“It’s a role for an operator who can think rather than for a steering wheel attendant,” he suggests. “We get a lot of work through recommendation so having the right person on board is essential.”

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