Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Derbyshire farm contractor ensures grass – and maize – is greener

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Investment in high-capacity machinery sees Derbyshire contractor Tom Thornley well prepared for the 2019 forage season.

The past five years has seen self-declared ‘one-man contracting machine’ Tom Thornley realise his ambition to move to permanent premises – Stanton Dale Farm, near Ashbourne – while broadening his grass and forage maize operating area.

For this season, Mr Thornley has invested a new high capacity variable rate Kuhn fertiliser spreader and triple deck grass mowers. He has also taken delivery of a new New Holland T7.270 Blue Power from Cubley-based Hallmark Tractors, which takes over as lead tractor from a Fendt 720.

“The T7.270 is a long wheel base version and suited to travelling longer distances by road – most of my maize work is around Staffordshire – and fitted with GPS technology accurate down to 2cm,” he explains.

Greater accuracy of in-field operations will benefit both grass and maize customers – the latter an area Mr Thornley is keen to expand. “The GPS will help when drilling maize which starts in April – the business uses an 8-row Accord disc drill.”

When coupled to use of the variable rate Kuhn Axis 40.1 spreader supplied by Sudbury-based RVT, the business also offers the opportunity to apply fertiliser across all acres more accurately.

Value for money

“With fertiliser prices above £200/t – depending on the product being used – any saving in input costs will benefit all my livestock farming customers. The other benefit of this spreader is its 3500kg capacity – up to six bulk bags – compared to its predecessor’s 1800kg limit.”

The impact of improved fertiliser accuracy should be evident during the forage season and can be monitored whilst mowing. The business’ grass silage customers – mainly based around Uttoxeter and into the lower Peak District – will benefit from a higher output this season with the introduction of Kuhn 885 triple-deck mowers complementing an existing two-deck Claas outfit, he explains.

“All my core tractor fleet have front link arms and PTO so it was a logical step to improve the capacity of the mowers,” he explains.

“I’ve always had in my mind that I’d like to be 80ha in front of the Claas forage harvester and the two Fusion round balers – the latter supplied by Wardmans of Matlock – which I now run.”

The business also operates a New Holland six string square baler but mainly for straw baling in summer.

In demand

Although a one-man outfit, Mr Thornley uses regular self-employed drivers to help during busier times adding there is little desire to take on full-time employees. “I like to be at each job myself making sure it’s done right. That way the telephone keeps ringing,” he adds.

“And the other benefit of being able to use self employed staff is you can pick the best operator for a particular job,” adds his wife, Clair – a deputy head teacher.

There’s clearly a sense of making sure operations are done right in Mr Thornley’s actions. It also goes some way to explain why he prefers customers who use the business for planting maize to also use it when harvest comes around in autumn. “It’s a crop I just love whether planting or cutting.

“The Claas 860 self-propelled harvester now runs with an Orbus header unit which is self levelling for greater accuracy.


Although the move to Stanton Dale Farm has placed the contracting business at the northern end of its current operating area, it allowed Mr Thornley the opportunity to have the equipment at hand to work on around family duties.

“We have 10.5ha of our own grassland and rent a further 90ha locally. It supports around 70 head of sucklers and stores and a flock of 200 Mules and 50 Texels – probably too many sheep for what we need,” he reflects.

Lambing is tailing off as the forage contracting seasons opens with fertiliser spreading, muck carting and slurry tankering resuming. “By the end of the maize harvest you can feel a bit flattened but come spring I’m always keen to get back into the job after hedge cutting over winter.”

Access to indoor workshop space and undercover storage of key grass equipment helps with annual maintenance and servicing.

Describing himself as ‘tractor mad’ the firm’s fleet of Ford 7740SLE, NH TM155, T7.200, T7.270 and the Fendt 720 may seem excessive for a one-man operation albeit using hired-in drivers.

“It does allow me to keep the amount of hours an individual tractor clocks up down to around 1300 hours a year helping with residual values. The Fendt 720 has now clocked 7000 hours but remains a reliable machine so is being retained for the time being.”

But clocking up hours is not something Mr Thornley is shy of himself. “I have said the move up to GPS would allow me to put in a night shift but the truth is I just love the job,” he reflects.

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