Friday, December 6, 2019

Customer service is carved in stone

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

De-stoning is the latest service to be offered by contractor James Slack – following the delivery of a new machine.

James Slack purchased his Elho Scorpio 550 stone picker after finally tiring of hand-picking stones at Dannah Farm, near Belper, Derbyshire.

“As a family we have around 40ha of our own land,” he explains. “It’s home to a family-run award-winning accommodation and restaurant business – but we regularly had to hand pick stones from freshly ploughed ground ahead of the drill.

The Elho unit was bought initially to improve his own ground. But James has taken the opportunity to offer a de-stoning service across the Midlands – having already undertaken clearance work from Leamington Spa to Hull.

Manufactured in Sweden and supplied by Shutts Farm Machinery of Bakewell, the machine has a 5.5m operating width. Tines guide stones (including what some would describe as boulders) to a central sieve section for sorting, lifting and containment in a three tonne capacity hopper.

“The size of material to be removed by the sieve depends on the number of finger sections you remove. In practice you can take out stones down to a diameter of around two inches (50mm). Operating speed varies from one to four acres an hour with the machine charged out at £80/hour.

New opportunities

“It creates three opportunities for users. Firstly, in the arable or cropping sector there is an immediate reduction in the wear and tear on machinery such as cultivators and drills and less risk of damage to harvesting machinery.

“Secondly, there is the improvement in growing conditions for the crop. And thirdly there is the opportunity to utilise the harvested stone for construction purposed such as yard or shed bases or for use on tracks.

“At Dannah we have a lot of gritstone which gets pulled to the surface and needs to be removed. But this is good material for hard-coring areas which otherwise we’d have to buy in material at around £14/t.”

Destoning is best carried out after ploughing and when soil conditions are dry. This reduced the risk of clods of soil being carried over the sieve and into the hopper, it is explained. “Already I’ve been asked to use it on both arable and amenity ground for farming and non-farming customers.”

Working with orthers

Other farm-based services continued to be offered by Mr Slack. “For many years I have teamed up with local contractors Stuart Allen and Andy Heath to offer a full mowing, chopping and ensiling service to livestock farmers across the Derbyshire and Nottingham border.

“New for the 2019 season, I have just taken delivery of a Malone 8.4m tedder – again supplied by Shutts – which can be used as part of a full silaging service or a stand alone operation.”

Over winter, the farm’s 14t silage trailer has had a major overhaul in preparation for the 2019 silage season. “With new trailers costing around £1000 per tonne capacity as a guide, it made sense to refurbish my old unit. The chassis has been shot blast and repainted, new bushes fitted to the suspension and a complete overhaul of the brakes, lights and hydraulics.”

It is a similar proposition for a recently acquired Chieftan dump trailer when time allows, he hopes.

Other year around services remain core to the business first set up in 1995. A high capacity Bunning rear disc spreader and Roland rear discharge spreader are available for applying FYM. A 2600gal splash-plate tanker is used for applying slurry.

“Interestingly, at LAMMA we were looking at a sward slitter attachment which could be retro-fitted to a tanker as a possible route forward rather than go for a heavy dribble-bar applicator.”

Working relationship

During the harvesting season a Massey Ferguson 2190 six string square baler is a mainstay proving reliable across several seasons.

Although the business runs a 12m sprayer, there is little desire to make this a dedicated service. (Mr Slack is NRoSO registered as part of farm assurance “I do help out a few local farms when required,” he explains.

Running a tight one-man operation requires good support from local businesses, he suggests. A good working relationship with Fendt main dealer Pyketts of Ilkeston sees the business’ Fendt 722 still proving reliable service having clocked 10,000hrs.

Aside from contracting duties, Mr Slack continues to upgrade facilities at the tenanted unit, part of the Chatsworth Estate. A recent environmental improvement grant from Severn Trent has seen a sprayer wash-out area covered over to reduce rainwater dilution and run-off.

“In future some of the gritstone harvested with the Elho stone rake may be used to form a yard area between the sprayer wash-off and an adjacent building – a useful by-product of clearing our arable land – to improve the appearance of the farm for visitors to the accommodation and restaurant.”

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