The Rees family have favoured red and grey tractors since the 1960s, and today the family runs an impressive fleet of nouveau-classic Massey Ferguson machines representing 60 years of MF production. Simon Henley recently went to see the tractors in action.
It is not often you meet a dairy farmer with a passion for tractors, let alone a dairy farm which runs an immaculate fleet of Massey Ferguson models, several of which are increasingly desirable examples favoured by red and grey enthusiasts across the country.
Andrew Rees and his wife Abigail farm 218 hectares just east of Leicester in the heart of the British Midlands. Working alongside Mr Rees’ parents, who farmed in their own-right nearby, the family have been tending the ground in this area for 61 years, and have been based at their current location since 1994.
Andrew Rees’ father, Mr Ken Rees, cut his teeth as a teenager driving a Fordson E27N. When he left school to work with his father, the Fordson was replaced by a four-cylinder MF35. An inherently poor-starter, the MF35 was replaced by a Massey Ferguson 135 in the mid-1970s.
“The farm has always used MF tractors,” says Andrew Rees. “Primarily, that is because all the implements we have purchased over the years have been matched to the tractors we have been using. If we had kept every tractor Dad (Ken Rees) had purchased over the years, we would have a museum full by now.
“I suppose you could say that our tractors are not all just working tools, but also a bit of a hobby. Dad has restored several tractors since he retired, and we still get them out and use them if only for a bit of fun. If I am out trimming up branches around the field boundaries, I will quite often use the three-cylinder MF 35X Dad rebuilt.”
“One of my favourite tractors is the MF 135 (45.5hp). We still use the tractor with an ATV sprayer mounted on the back, for spot-spraying docks and thistles in the pastures. Dad has always said, every farm should have a 135 in the shed. I would not argue, because it is a great little tractor for odd jobs.”
Naturally, while Andrew Rees embraces the need for a tractor or two from his father’s heyday, in the modern farming world they have a limited role to play. But that does not mean a working tractor cannot be a specific model you have always aspired to, says Mr Rees.
“Without question, my favourite tractor is the MF 6290. We had one year’s ago and the moment we sold it, I regretted it. The one we have now is an immaculate 2003 model which I purchased from Parris Tractors. I bought it with 3,000 hours and have since increased that to 5,000.
“When I was younger, when dad replaced a tractor, I used to appreciate the improvements to the new model. Where the 6290 is concerned, I think it is about as good a tractor as MF has ever produced and I think it is the pinnacle development of an all-round mixed farm tractor. It is also an appreciating asset, which was another fundamental reason for buying it.”
The 135hp MF 6290 may be a firm favourite of Andrew Rees but there are nearly a dozen MF machines on this farm. Of these, four are front line tractors with four more playing supporting roles as and when they are needed. There is even an MF combine. It is a system which works well, and importantly keeps the hours down on older models that are today becoming depreciation proof.
The newest tractor on the farm is an MF 7718 Dyna-6 model (180hp). This tractor is an ex-demo 2016 example which arrived at Gaulby Lodge three-years ago with just 400 hours under its belt. On this farm, the 7718 handles all the ploughing, power-harrowing and muck spreading. It also powers the farm’s Lely Storm trailed forage harvester.
Making silage is an important part of the annual curriculum. With 160 Holstein-Friesian cows to feed over-winter, producing high-quality fodder is essential, which is why the Rees family prefer to take grass harvesting duties into their own hands.
“Besides having the cows and the followers for dairy replacements, my wife runs a flock of 200 mule breeding sheep,” says Mr Rees. “We also grow around 40Ha of wheat and a similar amount of maize. The wheat is sold, while the maize is used as silage for winter feed.
“We have always run our own forage harvester. It is a slower process than having a contractor come in, but it gives us greater flexibility and more control of what goes in the clamp. In the past, we used a Kverneland Taarup 10X, however, spare parts for these machines are no longer available.”
“Earlier this year, we bought a 2015 Lely Storm 130P, which had previously cut just 120Ha. It is essentially brand new and has so far performed superbly this year. The Lely Storm is basically an updated/re-badged version of the Reco-Mengele SH40N flywheel-type precision chop harvester. There a plenty of these machines in service, so parts should not be an issue for some time to come.”
Working alongside the MF 7718 are two MF 6480 Dyna-6 (145hp) models. The oldest of these is a 2009-model purchased as an ex-hire machine in 2010 with just 600 hours under its belt. This is Ken Rees’ preferred baling tractor, however, it also handles trailer work when it is not baling and runs the Keenan feeder wagon in the winter.
Its stablemate is a 2012 version, which Andrew Rees purchased last year specifically to take the workload off his prized 6290. This one came from Wales, and is now used for fertilising duties or powering the farm’s Krone mower-conditioner.
Supporting roles on the farm are played by a double brace of nouveau classic MF tractors, including the high-visibility 4200/4300 Series and the ground breaking 3000 Series. First up is a 1993 six-cylinder MF 3095 Autotronic (107hp), which also came from Parris tractors. This French-built tractor features a four-speed Dynashift gearbox and is today used for light work such as raking and tedding.
“We also have a two-wheel drive 3065 Autotronic (85hp) which we bought for dad on his 70th birthday six-years ago,” adds Mr Rees. “This is also a superb tractor for sunshine jobs like tedding and raking, plus it is very manoeuvrable.”
Equipped with MF’s 32F by 32R gearbox featuring a two-speed splitter, the Perkins-powered four-cylinder 3065 is another fine example of what was one of the most technologically advanced tractor ranges produced in the late-Eighties and early-Nineties.
Buying older tractors as working investments is an increasingly popular trend for many mid-sized farmers. However, when it comes to parting with your hard-earned brass, the purchase of a tractor built in yesteryear can also make financial sense.
The Rees family’s Coventry-built 4255 (95hp) has been on the farm for nearly 18 years. Equipped with an MF loader, up until a few years ago, it was the farm’s primary materials handler. When the family purchased the tractor in 2003, it had clocked just 70 hours. By 2006, this figure had escalated to 3,000 hours, prompting the family to do a deal and trade it in for a new tractor.
Andrew Rees says: “When Dad and I went to our local dealer, they wanted £20k and the 4255 for a brand new tractor. At the time I discovered we could buy a newer second hand 4355 (100hp) with lower hours for £22k. So that is what we did. For an additional £2,000 we had two tractors instead of one, and both of them are still used on the farm today.”
While the dairy herd benefits from modern electronic technology when it comes to milking and administering feed rations, technology only plays a very small role when it comes to tractor driving. Here a Trimble light bar is the only techno-system, which is used for guidance when they are fertilising grass.
In terms of maintaining their kit, tractor driver Matthew Langrick handles most of the day-to-day maintenance, with additional support from agricultural engineer Mick Judd who works for nearby Chandlers if things get too technical.
“I like to think our working fleet of tractors are money in the bank,” says Andrew Rees. “The number of tractors we have gives us exceptional flexibility. They also suffer less depreciation and our machinery costs are actually no higher than those of other dairy farmer’s I talk to in our local discussion group, who choose to run fewer tractors which are newer models.
“Besides being working machines, you could also say these tractors are my hobby. If I am honest, I often wonder if the diesel tractor of yesteryear will suffer the same fate of the steam engine and suddenly become a technologically redundant environmental dinosaur. I suppose one day we will find out, but I am not going to worry about that until it happens.”