Peter May runs a contracting business serving approximately 250 clients within a 40-mile radius of his base at Harlow, Essex. A wide range of tasks are undertaken for a variety of farming, equestrian, sporting, amenity and local authority clients.
“It's difficult to calculate the total acreage that we work, as much of it is in the form of small, individual jobs,” he explains. “To get it all covered, we currently employ three full-time staff and up to another 12, as and when the workload demands.
“In the agricultural sector, the principal activities involve crop spraying, slug pelleting, GPS soil mapping and tractor and driver hire. Our equestrian customers receive all aspects of paddock maintenance and muck removal, while on the amenity side the work includes sports pitch maintenance, spraying, cultivation and seeding, vegetation clearance and all aspects of fencing.
“We also operate as sub-contractors for another company, providing a winter gritting service. This takes the form of using four trailed gritters and pickups to cover supermarket car parks and industrial premises – at more than 100 locations in all – as well as snow ploughing.
And, if that were not enough, Peter has another enterprise rearing 10,000 turkeys throughout the year and has recently converted seven industrial units at the company's Harlow base for this purpose.
So how does he cope with such a wide range of activities and geography where timeliness is paramount? His reply comprises just two words. Massey Ferguson.
“Over the past nine years, we have run three MF 6480s, two MF 7618s and currently have a MF 7718, a MF 6480 and a MF 1747 compact tractor,” he reports. “The biggest tractor is always purchased new, with a full warranty (this particular model has a 4,500-hour warranty) and it is changed when the warranty is due to expire.
“It is also run with the MF Manager service package, which ensures that we know exactly how much the machine costs to run,” Peter states. “Our MF 7718 replaced a MF 7618 and is a '65 plate, with 2000 hours on the clock so far. It's a top spec Exclusive model, complete with front linkage and PTO, 54k gearbox, all-round suspension, air brakes, Datatronic, Comfort Cab package, four electric spools and full GPS autoguidance. It also has a MF 976 front loader and runs on 650 tyres.
“We predominantly use this machine for all of the heavier cultivation work, flail mowing with a front flail, trailer work, muck removals – and it undertakes all of our arable contract spraying work, with a trailed 4,000-litre sprayer.”
The MF 6480 is a 2010 model and was purchased second-hand with 2,600 hours on the clock and also had a little-used MF 966 front loader on it. This tractor now has worked just over 5,300 hours and, in Peter's words “has never missed a beat.” It, too, has a 54k gearbox, front and rear suspension, Datatronic, and the Comfort Cab package.
“This tractor is used mainly for the lighter work, such as hedgecutting, paddock maintenance – including harrowing – trailer work and is a back-up tractor to run on the trailed sprayer. Riding on Michelin Xeobib 650 tyres, it is popular with the paddock maintenance customers, who appreciate the low ground pressure. We currently have no fixed replacement policy for this machine, as it is always on light work, so there are no plans to change it in the near future.”
The MF 1747 Compact tractor was bought in March this year in order to bring in-house the amenity sector work which had previously been sub-contracted out and which had been restricting the company's flexibility. “The nature of our business involves the need to act promptly when instructed by a client,” Peter explains.
This machine now undertakes such tasks as stone-burying, seeding and mowing – the last-mentioned being carried out in tandem with either a McConnell roller mower or a hired-in Amazone flail collector. “We are also planning to buy a small sprayer for it,” says Peter, “as our current quad bike and trailed sprayer is somewhat under pressure.” By using the MF 1747, it can be towed around on a trailer – even into London, where a lot of spraying work is done for another contractor.
“We are really pleased with this machine, as it's really economical to run, it's comfortable and will enable us to expand the amenity side of the business further. We ordered the tractor with a heated air seat, over-sized turf tyres, air-conditioning, heater and hydrostatic 32k gearbox.
“We also specced it loader-ready, as we would like to use it in the winter on snow ploughing duties using a front-mounted plough. And as a little finishing touch, we ordered it with twin beacons to match the rest of the fleet! We plan to keep this machine for quite a few years, with the aim – hopefully – of acquiring an additional model in due course.”
All of P W May Contracting's tractor purchases have been made through AGCO Finance – generally on hire purchase agreements over three years – with the exception of the MF 7718, which is on lease purchase. “AGCO has always been very flexible and accommodating of our needs,” Peter states, “ensuring we get the best package to suit us on each machine we purchase.
“We've always ordered the tractors over-specced,” he continues, “not just to increase the likelihood of good resale values, but also to provide the operators with the comfort they need. I believe we have all the features on the machines that we need for our business – more, in fact – and I've never found that they're missing anything we require.
“Everything is laid out thoughtfully and they are very comfortable to operate. The new suspension on the MF 7718 is particularly impressive and a real improvement over the 7618. Even operating the MF 1747 for a long day is not uncomfortable, especially when you take into account that it has no suspension at all. Even in a small, basic machine like that, everything is positioned where you need it to be.”
What, then, is Peter's assessment of his relationship – now in its ninth year – with the Crawfords dealership? “Over that time, we've purchased eight tractors from them, as well as a trailed sprayer, two low-loader trailers, an 18-tonne grain trailer, three front-end loaders, a new Spearhead hedgecutter and a Broomex tractor broom to keep the yard tidy!
'The quality of service and back-up received to date has been nothing short of outstanding - we've never been let down,” Peter reflects. “In fact, it's one of the main reasons why we've remained loyal to Massey Ferguson. While the machines we've had have been very reliable, if they do go wrong we know back-up is there to support us.”
Crawfords service department stalwarts Malcolm Baker and Sean Baker, together with regular technician Richard Foster, are picked out for special praise: “We've yet to present them with a machine problem that they haven't been able to solve,” says Peter. “If it can't be fixed on-farm, they go above and beyond to ensure that we have a replacement machine to keep us moving while they find the solution.”
On the sales side, a good relationship has grown between Peter and Dave Redford. “Dave is always keen when it comes to a deal, but, rather than sell us something we don't really need, he listens to our requirements and provides us with the machine that best suits our specific business,” says Peter.
“Without the significant support given to us by Bob and Wes Crawford and their team over the past nine years, I firmly believe that our business would not be where it is today.”
However, while Peter's family have always had Massey Ferguson tractors, his first purchase when starting out on his own was a Case MX135. “When the time came to replace it, the Massey Ferguson option was vastly superior. We rack up a lot of hours each year and I've been really pleased with every machine we've had – and still have.
“They're economical to run, have a very good resale value and are very high quality products. As a result – and assuming we will continue to be provided with an exceptional level of service and back-up from Crawfords, I can think of no reason why we would ever change to another brand.”