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Total £137.37/Ha



Claas Ares 836 (42.53/hr) and subsoiler (3.72/hr)

Claas Ares 836 (42.53/hr) and 7f plough (7.04/hr)

Valtra T190 (39.16/hr) and press (2.89/hr)

Valtra T180 (37.96/hr) and drill (13.79/hr)

Valtra 6300 (23.18/hr) and rolls (6.99/hr)

Househam sprayer (38.63/hr) and boom (12.05/hr)

Valtra T190 (39.16/hr) and fert spreader (13.26/hr)

Claas 580TT (120.30/hr) and header (26.35/hr) Work rate








5.04ha/hour Total cost








29.10/ha Labour req.

15 man-mins/ha

33 man-mins/ha

33 man-mins/ha

23 man-mins/ha

15 man-mins/ha

15 man-mins/ha

7 man-mins/ha

12 man-mins/ha % of area worked









could mix and mulch,” he says. “It was using much less horsepower than the heavy discs and consequently was able to motor along at 10 to 11 km/h rather than at five to six km/h.”

But as good as minimum tillage is for cutting costs, the system isn’t as versatile as plowing when it comes in wet. The autumns of 2007 and 2008 proved that point beyond doubt, according to Hill. “We’d have been completely stumped without the plows last year. It got so wet that we had two tractors plowing directly ahead of the drill for much of the season.”

This, in turn, meant that the farm’s current drill, a Solitair, spent most of 2007 and 2008 piggy-backing the farm’s four-metre power harrow, whereas for the min-till work it rides on the tail of the Rubin disc cultivator.

“Being able to swap over the drill from the power harrow on to the discs makes it incredibly versatile,” explains Hill. “For min-till, we usually run across the stubbles once with the cultivator, to give them a decent chance to green up, before spraying them off and then going back in with the Rubin and drill.”


Costing exactly what the business shells out on each operation has always been a priority for Hill, and in this last year he has devoted even more attention to the financial performance

Even though the costs are in pounds and the area is in hectares, you can get the gist of this table. By analyzing his machinery costs — this example is for winter wheat — Arthur Hill sees where he can make improvements.

of machines with the help of a piece of computer software. Developed by The Arable Group’s (TAG) Mike Rigby, the program allows detailed analysis of machine running costs to help farmers and contractors identify where savings can be made. To do this, the user inputs data such as the current market value of the machine, how long it is to be kept for, an estimated final value, hours clocked per year, insurance premiums, fuel use and an allowance for maintenance. Making predetermined assumptions on interest rates and fuel, the software package then works out how much it is costing to run that machine each hour.

Implements are treated in much the same way, and such is the intricacy of the analysis that even the combine header is costed separately from the combine itself. The sprayer boom receives similar individual treatment — to allow for the KRM fertilizer spreader being mounted on the Househam sprayer skid for part of the spring.

The amount of information available is comprehensive and undeniably useful but to access the real picture of operational costings, it has to be put together in a meaningful way. See the table, Example costs for winter wheat operations. Showing percentage of total area worked, the final column of the table allows for operations that only cover part areas of the field or require a number of passes. For example, subsoiling only accounts for 25 per cent of the area because it is just the tramlines and headlands that are pulled up each year. Similarly, the sprayer passes across the field at least five times so it covers 500 per cent of the field.

By approaching his operations in this way, Hill is able to accurately allocate costs to individual enterprises and crops, and work out exactly which tasks swallow up the most labour and machine hours. It is then only a small step to calculate exactly how much it has cost to produce each tonne of grain.

When it comes to tractor choice, Hill tends to stick with what is on offer from local Claas dealer Morris Corfield. In the past that policy has seen the farm running Valtras, but more recently there has been a switch to lime green and white.

The first Claas to arrive at Walton Grange was an Ares 836. “We’ve been pleased with the 836 generally, but at first found it wasn’t performing as well as we would have hoped on the

drill,” says Hill. “I know it isn’t the most accurate means of analysing fuel use, but we weren’t even managing 10 hours’ work out of a tank.”

Once the tractor’s warranty had expired, it was fitted with a chip to boost power and supposedly trim the Ares’s thirst. It certainly achieved that: Pre-chipping, the tractor was gulping down 44 litres per hour on the front of the farm’s combination drill. Now that figure is 23 litres per hour.

Generally, tractors are retained to about 7,000 to 8,000 hours, equating to six or seven years’ work, before they are replaced. However, Hill has concerns about the increasing levels of electrical complexity on new tractors, irrespective of brand.


By analysing running costs of each individual machine and implement, Arthur Hill is able to assess his true mar gins as well as areas for possible savings. He balances a min-till crop establishment regime with a pragmatic approach to field conditions — to ensure that all of his crops get drilled whatever the weather.

Nick Fone writes for Profimagazine. For more about the Europe-based farm machinery publication, visit the website at



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