All that glitters is not gold. Harry Henderson, AHDB Technical Knowledge Exchange Manager
discusses the latest thinking in machinery costings.
With all the debates held at Monitor Farm meetings, which rumbled on about machinery costs a couple of spin-off debates came to fruition. A recent visit to Scotland found me standing in front of farmers talking to them about their machinery spend. There was a general assumption that ‘this Englishman’ was going to tell hardy Scots farmers to use tractors built in a country formerly part of the USSR and they should have kept hold of the 1983 Dominator combine that they fondly remember. Oh, and harvest your wheat at 14% moisture like us other Brits do and you’ll be in good shape. (Although I think I did gasp when one farmer calmly said, “You really have to stop combining when wheat gets to 35% moisture?”)
Of course I wasn’t born yesterday, and have learnt from walking into a hail of bullets in the past. So, my tack was to show the operation costs found across the Monitor Farm network and discuss how machinery costs vary so much and if your farm business can sustain these costs. In addition, using the average figure as benchmark, can your combine harvester come in at or around that cost?
Some good, open conversation came up with these thoughts;
• Were any of these costs something to worry about? In the current climate, not really.
• Are the higher costs unsustainable if farm support payments reduce? Quite probably.
• Do you need to finally accept that factory trip to the Minsk Tractor Works to see your next tractor? No.
• Should your combine be old enough to drink alcohol and vote before trading it in? Absolutely not.
Looking at the range of costs found across the Monitor Farm network showed that there’s always a back story. Take rolling after drilling, for example – the £4/ha cost on one farm revealed a Fendt 514 working across 500 hectares with a 12 metre set of rolls. The £21/ha operation cost revealed a 6150R John Deere working with a 6 metre set, across 230 hectares. The higher cost simply showed the output reduced by half due to working width and covering approximately half the area, while a similar sized tractor was used across both operations.
So it’s not the age of the machine, it’s the size and area it’s used across. Having said that, it goes without saying of course that reducing the cost, and therefore capacity of machinery carries its own risks; missing that vital weather window. Something Scottish farmers are all too aware of.
Looking at the range of costs found across the Monitor Farm network showed that there’s always a back story.
Looking at combining, the Scots waste no time in telling you they need high capacity and all condition threshing in a combine. The meeting attendees surmised that the combine costing £41/ ha, a 2003 machine cutting 539ha per year, was at too high a risk of a breakdown and potentially missing a vital weather window and ultimately missing harvesting quality grain. The combine at £97/ha took a direct hit on its costs, as it saw some serious winter maintenance last year. Arguably, these costs could have been spread over a couple of years – indeed the combine is staying on-farm for an extra couple of years at least as a result.
By using the costs generated at Monitor Farms across the country you can gain a reasonable benchmark cost for your own system. Taking the average cost, you are also able to consider if a new combine is affordable.
Looking at combining, the Scots waste no time in telling you they need high capacity and all condition threshing in a combine.
Look at it like this; the average farm, with a cost to business of £66/ ha and hectares to cut at 500 each year, means you have spent £33,000 on harvesting capacity, combine, fuel, driver the lot. Within that figure, there is enough to pay for a good combine at the right capacity for your locality and weather patterns. Understanding your cost of operation can go a long way to seeing you right and the truth may not be that painful.
To calculate your own costs, search AHDB Machinery Cost Calculator and use the calculations to see for yourself.