Colin Smith and his father Richard farm 450 hectares near Rugeley in Staffordshire with a fleet of 12 nouveau-classic Ford and New Holland tractors, the newest of which was built in 2014. Simon Henley finds out more about the fleet.
The Smith family have been farming the land at Pipe Ridware near Rugeley since 1900. That is 121 years of tilling the Staffordshire soil, and during that time two things have remained consistent. Firstly, they have always been dairy farmers. Secondly, since the first tractor arrived on the farm in 1947, they have almost exclusively used Fordson, Ford and New Holland tractors.
"It is not that we are precious about Ford or New Holland tractors," says Colin Smith, who farms in partnership with his father, Richard. "We just seem to do very well with them and, importantly, we have always had the support we need to keep using them."
The Smith fleet currently includes 12 tractors, with a range of models which incorporates three classic Ford tractors, including a 7610, 7810 and 8830, a Ford/New Holland 8340, four New Holland TM models, a T6050, a T7060 and two T7 tractors, the newest of which was manufactured in 2014.
Mr Smith is understandably proud of the farm’s tractor portfolio. But don not be fooled into thinking these machines are all tractor shed ornaments. While these machines are kept in immaculate condition, when it comes to work, there is no sentimentality in using these tractors for their intended purpose. They are all working machines with specific tasks, as Mr Smith explains.
"Having a fleet of tractors that are all very similar gives us the flexibility to interchange them between jobs if we need to. It also means that when we have casual labour working on the farm during the spring planting and harvesting seasons, the continuity of the tractor’s controls makes them easier to set up and operate."
The farming enterprise at Pipe Ridware features a 230-cow dairy herd, milked twice a day, plus followers. The farm’s crop rotation includes 23 hectares of permanent pasture, with 151ha of temporary grassland including a mixture or two and four-year leys, which are usually followed by either maize or potatoes.
Potatoes account for about 75ha of the farm’s cropping plan, with the Smith family growing varieties such as Pentland Dell and Lady Rosetta which are sold for processing. Then there is about 100ha of wheat, 24ha of beans and 80ha of maize which is used to produce silage for feed.
When it comes to managing their tractor fleet, Mr Smith’s utilisation strategy revolves entirely around the farm’s workload. This particularly applies to the Spring, when the work schedule includes potato-planting, preparing ground for maize planting, drilling maize, fertilising crops and grassland, crop spraying, rolling and harrowing, muck spreading, slurry tanking and so on. And all of this is during the lead up to first-cut grass silage.
“There are five full-time men on the farm, but there are times when we might have 10 tractors working in the fields,” says Mr Smith. “Having a large fleet of well-maintained older tractors at our disposal is more cost effective than seasonally hiring tractors, and it is more affordable than having six brand new models every three years or so on finance or lease hire contracts.
“I will not deny, there can be some downsides to using older tractors. From experience, I can tell you that if you are continually pushing older tractors and working them hard, then you are always just around the corner from a big repair bill. We are fortunate because we not only have local dealer support, but also an excellent local self-employed mechanic, James Sault, who is a New Holland specialist.
As a whole, Mr Smith says New Holland tractors are reliable, but regular servicing is vital. “As they get older, problems tend to generally involve oil pipe failures, wiring loom issues and occasional sensor glitches. The mechanical spool valve slices and the actuation cables on the older TM models are another weak link in the chain.”
For smooth operation, Mr Smith says particular attention needs to be paid to the calibration of certain areas. “If you have driven New Holland tractors, most people will know the transmissions need to be periodically recalibrated, particularly on the older TM tractors. This is something we do when the tractors are serviced.
“The newer models, in particular the T7060 and T7.210, also need the front axle suspension system periodically recalibrating. If this process is neglected, the front of the tractor eventually drops onto the rubber bump axle stops and the suspension quits working.”
Generally, Mr Smith shares the heaviest workload between the younger tractors with less hours. “The T7060, T7.210 and T7.250 now represent the working core of the fleet, particularly when it comes to ploughing and deep cultivation work.
“The T7.250 we bought recently, was purchased specifically to take over from the New Holland TM 190, which was previously the main drilling tractor. It is a higher specced model than the other tractors we have, so it will generally be used for more of the precision work.
“The rest of the fleet is generally used as and when we need the tractors. I do not like swapping wheels and tyres around, so, depending on the tractor’s tyre equipment, one tractor might only do two or three specific tasks. For example, the T6050 is permanently equipped with row crop wheels. It is used on the potato planter and then it is attached to a trailed Chafer crop sprayer. That is all it really does.”
When it comes to the farm’s use of technologies such as GPS and auto-steer, Mr Smith is quite candid. “We had an AutoPilot steering system on the T7060 for a while, which used Trimble CenterPoint RTX guidance. I personally thought it was too expensive for what little benefit it gave us.
“A lot of our fields are either too small, located on banks or have difficult headlands. Having tried using auto-steer, I have actually returned to using guidance only. We now use a TeeJet guidance light bar, which works particularly well for fertilising and spraying the grassland. For tasks like ploughing, cultivating and drilling, dad and I still rely on the skill of the operators.
The latest tractor to arrive on the farm was a New Holland T7.250. Registered in 2014, the tractor has clocked just 1,300 hours in the last seven years. Mr Smith expects the new tractor to clock an average of 1,000 hours per annum, for the next four years.
The purchase of this tractor was heavily influenced by calculations made for its anticipated depreciation in value during the next 48 months. Prior to buying the tractor, Mr Smith priced up a brand new T7.245 from his local dealer. He also inquired about a two-year old T7.245 with 1,300 hours on the clock.
“With a brand new tractor, you get a factory warranty and a wider range of finance options which are generally cheaper,” he says. “The best price I could get for a brand new T7.245 tractor with front linkage/pto was about £100,000 on-farm.
“Using current market values as a guide line, I estimated that in four years’ time with 4,000 hours on the clock, this tractor would have a value of about £52,000. That means it will have depreciated £48,000 in value, which equates to approximately £12 per hour.
“The two year old tractor was priced at £82,000. I estimated that in four years’ time with approximately 5,300 hours on the clock, it would have a resale value of around £40,000. That is a depreciative loss in value of £42,000, or around £10.50 per hour.
“I paid £62,000 for the T7.250. That was top-money for a six-year old tractor, but it has only clocked 1,300 hours. In four years’ time with another 4,000 hours added to that, it will be a 10 year old tractor with a value of about £35k. Based on that calculation alone, the tractor will have lost just £27,000 in value, which calculates to £6.75 per hour.
“Of course the older tractor could break down, but then so could the two year old model. That is the gamble you take when you buy anything second-hand, however, the benefit is that the loss in resale value tends to plateau once the tractors are 10 years old.
“From our perspective, buying a decent low-hour second hand tractor which has been well looked after, was the only sensible option which was affordable. It is what we have always done in the past, and it is a buying practice which still works for us today.”
The Smith’s latest acquisition is this 2014 New Holland T7.250. Procured to take over from the TM190 as the farm’s drilling tractor, here it is seen ploughing potato ground.
Permanently equipped with narrow row-crop wheels, the T6050 is used primarily for planting potatoes and pulling the farm’s 3,000-litre, 24m, trailed Chafer crop sprayer.