I’ve never been one to splash out on kit (when I used to submit my farm accounts to the government’s farm income survey, my investment in machinery per acre was a quarter of the average for my farm type and size).
But when my tractors start to spend longer being patched up in the workshop than they do working in the field then even I have to concede that it is time to reach for my cheque book.
Of course “reaching for my cheque book” is a ludicrously old fashioned way to buy a tractor. Hire purchase (HP) or even contract hire (where the farmer simply pays a monthly fee to use the tractor) are increasingly popular methods of “owning” tractors and other types of farm machinery that avoid the farmer having to fork out the increasingly large sums required to buy one outright.
But I have serious problems with HP or contract hire arrangements. They leave me with the feeling that I would never really “own” the tractor (and once I find myself on the treadmill of monthly payments will I ever be able to get off it?). And where is the rough and tumble with the signing of these cold, bloodless finance agreements? I want to haggle.
This, of course, means that I am now faced with the outright purchase of a tractor. I haven’t even dared ring up an appointed tractor dealer to ask about the price of any new tractors because, frankly, that would be a waste of their time and mine. Suffice to say that I have never yet paid more than £18,000 for a tractor in my 35 year farming career.
So it is to the pages of Farm Machinery that I inevitably turn. Here the endless pages of photographs of green, red and blue bonnets fill me with a sense of excited anticipation. Worryingly, many of the tractors listed are very expensive and some don’t even dare state the asking price but say “POA.” But, there are a few that – with a bit of haggling – might be brought within my price range so I put in a call to a dealer with whom I have done lots of business in the past.
Unfortunately he doesn’t answer so I leave a message on his phone giving him the outline of what I am looking for and the list of the items I have to trade in: “One H Reg Massey Ferguson 3080 (9,800 hours), one three metre power harrow drill combination (some parts missing), one Allman sprayer (pump and boom may need attention), one 1995 Massey Ferguson 12 inch four furrow reversible plough (parts no longer available), one little-used hedge cutter.
Later, he calls me back and leaves a message. It goes like this: “Hi Stephen, I gather you’ve got a load of old rubbish you want to trade in against a second hand tractor. I’ll be over for a ‘grand tour of rust’ whenever you are available.”
Like I say, he knows me very well. Negotiations are under way.