Trade focus: Foraging for an affordable answer in Tullamore

“There is always a rush to make things bigger and faster in farming; but have we forgotten about quality?” Alan Gethings of JF Centre, Tullamore, posed the question.

It’s a question that is not asked often enough. It is prompted by the fact that, of the silage samples annually tested in Offaly, at least one made by a JF trailed harvester has appeared in the top three for feed value over the past few years.

“I sold 13 reconditioned trailed harvesters this season; mainly to farmers who want to get away from contractors and start doing it themselves again.” he said.

There are good reasons why they should want to do so, he believes – the first being a matter of timeliness.

“Contractors will always have their mind on the next job. I’m a contractor myself and the silage window is getting smaller every year; they need to keep the harvester working.”

Naturally, Alan uses a JF machine for the 700ac he still cuts as part of the contracting side of the business.

“We do around 50ac a day. The grass is cut in the evening to ensure the sugars are up and then wilted for at least 24 hours.”

With some operators of self-propelled harvesters claiming over 150ac a day, 50ac might not seem a lot. However, he points out that it is the rate at which it can be taken back to the farm and loaded into the pit which determines the overall efficiency of a silage outfit.

“A self-propelled can spend a lot of time waiting for trailers, whereas we never stop.”

This consistent work-rate has the added advantage that the crop can be layered and rolled into the pit properly – an important part of the process, but one which is often overlooked.

There is also a large saving in costs to be had. Reconditioned machines can start at less than €10,000 and will have many years’ service still ahead of them.

“There will always be a bearing or chain that needs replacing, but I have customers spending no more than €100 a season in running them,” he maintained.

Alan also notes that many farmers will now have tractors large enough to work a trailed machine. To have over 150hp available on farms is nothing unusual; these are well-matched to what would have been contractors’ harvesters 15 or 20 years ago.

Farmers will also have trailers and a loader and, more importantly, many get an annual bill from contractors which average around €100/ac.

“A lot of farmers are starting to rethink the maths and are deciding that relying on ever bigger self-propelled machines is not the answer after all.”

Recently, Alan has added another trick to the game in the form of a mowing unit (pictured above), which can be installed in front of the pick-up reel. This instantly turns the harvester into a zero-grazing machine when a trailer is coupled to the rear.

To detach the mower takes no more than 10 minutes, he claimed. This immediately reverts it back to a precision-chop harvester.

JF was bought out by Kongskilde which, in turn, became part of New Holland. However, the simplicity of the design has remained and all parts (for all JF harvesters) are available through the firm.

Indeed, the business started when Alan found himself in need of a new gearbox; there was not a new or used one in the country, so he ended up buying a whole machine and breaking it. He sold the other parts on the internet.

This led to a second machine being bought for breaking and so on. Presently, he has seven gearboxes on the shelf which can be collected or dispatched for overnight delivery.

“No one need worry about getting hold of one again,” he happily promised.

The business now specialises in reconditioning JF harvesters as well as the supply of parts. So far, sourcing used stock has not been an issue, for he is happy to underwrite trades-ins for dealerships throughout the UK and Ireland.

Other agencies

However, there are two other agencies that the company holds.

The first is Twose hedge-cutters. These are apparently made in the same factory as McConnel machines, yet they remain a separate brand; although there is some commonality of parts.

While McConnel has plumped for electrical control, Twose has stuck with a proportional joystick and a slightly more modest price.

Indeed, hedge-cutters are another area in which Alan has a gained a good deal of experience. He carries a good stock of parts for the major makes.

The second (agency) is Cross Agricultural Engineering and, in particular, the company’s slurry handling equipment.

“We farmers have had it too easy with splash-plates,” he conceded. Alan thinks dribble bars are only a half-way house toward trailing-shoe systems.

Slurry application is new to the business. However, they are learning quickly and intend the same offering of parts and service back-up as they already do with harvesters and hedge-cutters.