Innovation and pedigree valued by Lincs family farm An excellent relationship with the local Massey Ferguson dealer and continued satisfaction with the tractor range has resulted in a Lincolnshire family farm’s loyalty to the brand for more 27 years.
Appreciation of a good pedigree forms the on-going basis for success for Louth, Lincolnshire farmers R & A Needham Farms Ltd, and that applies to the machinery operated as much as to the prizewinning cattle. David Williams reports. The Needham family has farmed at South Cockerington for 120 years and boasts one of the longest-established and largest herds of Charolais cattle in the UK. The farm includes 465 hectares (1,150 acres) of arable land and 60 ha (150 acres) of grass for forage and grazing. About 40ha (100 acres) of ridge and furrow land is down to permanent grass and a further 20ha (50 acres) is in the arable rotation. “We are surrounded by arable farms,” commented farmer Alistair Needham. “It’s ideal for our cattle as, without other livestock nearby, disease risk is reduced.” The family has always been innovative and five generations ago, John Needham had 20 acres on which he bred shire horses. Attention to detail created a reputation for quality stock but the sale of a mare, Cockerington Daisy, for 2,000 guineas in 1920, provided funds to purchase
100 acres of farmland equivalent to more than a million pounds today. A new enterprise commenced breeding Lincoln Red cattle and by the mid-1960s more than 600 were on the farm. The family was one of the first to bring Charolais bloodlines into its herd for breed improvement and the last Lincoln Red was sold in 1986. Now hornless Charolais cattle make up the Cockerington Poll Charolais Cattle herd; bred for their ease of calving, great temperament, ideal carcase and thrifty conversion rates achieved on forage rather than concentrates. “We have 250 head and achieved a 100 per cent calving record for the past two years,” said Ralph Needham. “The breed characteristics we developed are prized and are instrumental in starting several new herds in the UK and overseas every year.” High health status is maintained and males and females are sold
direct from the farm to avoid mixing with other stock at market. “The only time we buy in is for new bloodlines through bulls from Sweden,” explained Ralph. “The health status there is very high and we can be confident that the animals we import are suitable.” Dovetailing the livestock and arable enterprises spreads labour demand through the year and two employees work with the family fulltime. Ralph Needham looks after the pedigree side of the business, helping with farm tasks during busy periods while Alistair’s time is split between the arable and livestock enterprises. Thirty per cent of the farm is just 6ft above sea level and this tends to be heavy land, drained by Lindsey Marsh Drainage Board pumps. Higher land, up to 60ft above sea level is medium loam. Cropping includes winter wheat, winter barley, some of which is grown for feed, oilseed rape and spring oats which are all for feed. “We prefer feeding home-produced rations and oats are an ideal ingredient; easy to use and safe,” explained Alistair. A mill mix unit prepares rations on site.
Machinery strategy With the machinery fleet busy all year around, the decision was made in 1982 to control costs and update the tractors every three years. This Alistair Needham is pictured with one of the current stock of bulls for sale. More about the herd and stock for sale can be found on www.pollcharolais.co.uk
meant all would be under warranty for the time owned. In 1988 the local dealer used by the farm sold its site for a supermarket development. An enterprising salesman offering Massey Ferguson and representing main dealer Peacock & Binnington at Louth took the opportunity to call in and discuss the Needham’s requirements. “Peacock & Binnington has looked after us ever since,” explained Alistair. “Our current 3-tractor fleet of Massey Ferguson 7-series tractors includes our 30th supplied by the dealer. We know we can depend on the brand for reliability and the dealer for its fairness and after sales back-up. The tractors have always been good but reliability has improved in recent years, so we have moved from updating every three years to every four.”
Innovative brand A benefit of recent models is that the latest technology is available to improve productivity. “Massey Ferguson is very innovative,” commented Alistair. “In 1990 we bought our first Datatronic tractors offering wheel slip control for draft operations which improved work rates and efficiency.” In 1996 Peacock & Binnington ceased an agreement with its previous combine supplier in favour of Massey Ferguson. “We were immediately attracted to the possibilities offered by yield mapping technology on the latest models,” explained Alistair. “We saw a system in action in Denmark, after which we ordered a combine with it fitted which proved a very good move. “The local water authority was keen to carry out trials applying sludge to agricultural land,” he continued. “As one of very few farms with yield mapping technology at the time, we were the ideal candidate to provide the contract-farming service as we could accurately record differences in crop performance. Within the farming agreement was a clause offering us first refusal if the land was ever sold allowing us to expand our farm just four years later.” RTK guidance has been used on the farm for four years. An advantage of operating a fleet of modern tractors from the same manufacturer is that the farm’s two GPS receivers can be swapped easily between the combine and the tractors as needed. “With all the tractors guidance-ready it is just continued over...
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