Sunday, November 19, 2017

Well-rounded business continues expanding

March 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Profiles

Agricultural contracting is very much a service industry – and Oliver Arnold is proud to keep his customers happy.

Low pressure tyres have come into their own this season, enabling manure and slurry to be spread on fields when other machines have been left stranded, says agricultural contractor Oliver Arnold.

Mr Arnold and his wife Hannah run three Terragator spreaders – all with Tebbe spreader bodies fitted – from their base at Felthorpe, near Norwich. Operating under O Arnold, the business comprises Spring Farm Partnership and O Arnold Renewables Ltd.

“These machines are renowned for their spread quality and accuracy,” says Mr Arnold. “Unlike older Terragators, they offer true low-ground pressure because they run modern, Michelin tyres to minimise ground compaction. Its nice to see them working when other machines can’t.”

All the Terragators run the touch-screen Falcon mapping system which produces maps through Farm Works software that can be emailed to the customer. Such has been the wet winter, that customers are on the rise, Mr Arnold says.

The business also boasts a new Terragator tanker with an 8m injection unit fitted on the back. This machine is fitted with John Deere GPS RTK. It also runs the Falcon system and maps through Farm Works – similar to the spreaders. Its fast-fill loading arm can load 15m³ in under two minutes.

“The tanker has a ‘dog walk’ facility,” Mr Arnold explains. “You see similar systems on beet harvesters – the front and rear wheels are offset when working in the field, so they do not follow each other and compaction is reduced even further.”

With a wet autumn delaying spreading on many farms, much drilling and spreading work has been carried over from the winter. “Manures applied well will play an important part in the recovery and growth of crops this spring.”

But spreading is just one service offered by O Arnold Contracting. This year, a new 6m Sly Agri strip till machine will create a seedbed using RTK for more than 500ha of maize to help local growers reduce the cost of crop establishment, says Mr Arnold.

“The idea is to only work the area where you are going to plant, leaving most of the ground undisturbed. It reduces soil erosion and suppress weeds. The machine can work on the back of a tractor or attached to a Terragator tanker, so it can inject slurry while it works.”

Placing slurry 20cm below the maize seed puts nutrients exactly where they are needed by the crop. It means fewer losses from nitrogen and a lower fertiliser bill. “You can do the whole job in one pass,” says Mr Arnold.

When it comes to maize, this year O Arnold will be running four drills covering up to 7500 acres for biogas and livestock customers. The drills include an Amazone 12-row, an 8-row Kuhn Moduliner combination, 8-row Kuhn standard drill, and an 8-row Vaderstad Tempo.

“The biogas job has led us too all of this really,” says Mr Arnold. “We run two anaerobic digesters  – they run on green crop as a feedstock and generate 3MW between them. So we know a little bit about what we are talking about when it comes to biogas.”

Three-quarters of the maize drilled goes for biogas. “Having a biogas plant takes as much work as looking after a sizeable suckler herd,” says Mr Arnold. “It calls on you as much – the only difference is that it rings you when it needs your attention.”

Grass bale wrapping remains an important part of the business. “We bale and wrap around 8,000 bales per year. We are able to bale grass in both 80×90 and 120×90 bales – and we use a minimum of six layers of wrap and can apply additive too, as well as hiring bale nippers free of charge.”

A new service on offer this season has been sugar beet harvesting. “We bought a six-row Holmer T3 harvester which is run by operator Philip White. He knows what he is doing – we have a daily chat and our first year has gone really well – despite the terrible weather.”

The harvester has covered about 1750 acres this year. “You probably wouldn’t want to do much more than 2000 acres with a machine like that – we like to get round and do it well. There are some people out there who have tried to do a lot more this season and they’ve come unstuck. Long term we would like to run 2 machines.”

Employees are a vital part of the business. All of this couldn’t be achieved without a dedicated workforce. This season, the team will grow from 20 full-time staff to around 25. “Due to the growth of our business we have made some changes to guarantee we give excellent service.”

Trainee assistant Matthew Davey spends at least two days a week in the office helping Hannah and the rest of the week helping and learning about every aspect of the business. Nigel Griffin also runs the mill mix service jointly with Hannah, Tom Loudon is foreman of the contracting business, with Tim Morter and Oliver jointly in charge of the Terragators.

Continuity is important too. “Pretty much everything we were doing when we started the business is still going. I very much believe in that. The only major thing we have stopped doing is getting rid of the suckler herd, but I’ve done that to make way for a dairy herd.”

Starting a dairy enterprise is perhaps surprising, but Mr Arnold believes the time is right to invest. “The milk price has to improve but we are looking at a system with four robots and 240 cows – it gives the stockman more time to be a stockman, rather than putting clusters on teats.”

The dairy herd will be integrated into the biogas plant. “Green crop biogas plants miss slurry when it isn’t there – you don’t need it but you’ll be surprised at the efficiency you get by adding a little bit of slurry to the mix.”

It all adds up to a well-rounded business.

All photos courtesy of Colin Turner.

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