The towns and villages that spread down the valley of the River Taff in South Wales, to keep pace with the coal mining boom of the 19th century, have changed beyond recognition.
The surrounding upland areas looking down over them, however, are still much as they have always been. Or so it might appear...
They are home to many long-established, family-run farms – mainly livestock-based – that belie the fact that they, too, have had to embrace change. A good example is Maes Bach Farm, at Tonteg, near Pontypridd. Extending to some 250 acres, the farm is run by third and fourth generation members of the Johnson family – Clive and Gwyn, together with Clive's wife Janette.
The holding revolves around a 650-strong flock of various sheep breeds and 25 Charolais store cattle. In addition, there's a healthy business producing and selling small square bales of hay for the equestrian market, while just over 40 acres is leased out to a power company for a solar panel installation on which the farm has the ground maintenance contract. Another subsidiary service is the supply and spreading of lime for other farms in a 30 mile radius.
The first tractor to arrive at Maes Bach was a Ferguson TE20 in the late 1940s, since when every tractor here has been either a Ferguson or a Massey Ferguson. The latest machines to arrive were four MF 5713S models – two of them loader-ready – which were delivered in December 2018.
Their principal tasks include ploughing, cultivations (around 10 per cent of the land is re-seeded each year), muck, fertiliser and lime spreading, baling and haulage. There is some permanent pasture which is not suitable for re-seeding.
So, is it sentimental loyalty that drives the farm's buying decisions? “Certainly not,” Clive retorts. “We have always looked at other brands and assessed their merits before coming to a decision, but the fact remains that, having driven all the others, Masseys are still the best.”
Both Clive and Gwyn have been impressed by the regular upgrading of existing features and the steady introduction of new ones into the model range. “The latest cab layout is very good,” Gwyn states, “with all the controls logically positioned. It has all the capabilities of a larger tractor and, in fact, the cab is just quite a nice place to be.”
Having been very impressed with the front suspension on the 5713S they had on-farm for a day's trial, they specified it – along with cab suspension – on the recent purchases. “It's brilliant on the often bad roads we have around here,” he says.
Financially, the Johnsons feel the MF clinches the deal, too. “They command such a high residual value, even – potentially – with other brand dealerships,” says Clive. “We do look after them, though – cherish them, even – always bringing them in at night.”
Supplying MF machines used to be the remit of Ross Farm Machinery, but a territory boundary change put the farm on the other side of the line – the main A470 Merthyr Tydfil – Cardiff road, so it has, in recent years, been doing its business with Brodyr Evans, some 35 miles to the west.
“They are very supportive and always contactable,” Clive reports. “In fact, the local technician, Jamie, has formed a good working relationship with my son Gwyn.”
Asked what tractor he would go for if it had to be one other than a Massey Ferguson, Clive insists that he and Gwyn do not suffer from tunnel vision. “If it was nearly as good, but a lot, lot cheaper, then we would have to have a look. Having said that, however, I've driven all the others and quite simply, there's nothing to compare.”