Lancashire contractors reseeding service has expanded into re-instating grassland for utility companies
Dairy farmer and agricultural contractor Ian Kirkby has expanded his business by diversifying into the re-instatement of grassland for utility companies. Often under time pressure and always looking to minimise costs, he is now using an HE-VA Grass Rejuvenator. This enables reseeding to be done in fewer passes, and sometimes in just one.
At Park House Farm, in Tatham near Lancaster, Ian Kirkby, farms in partnership with his wife Jenny and parents Brian and Linda. They run a 100-cow dairy herd on their tenanted 200-acre farm. For many years, they have run an agricultural contracting business alongside the dairy unit.
Ian explains: “My father had always done some contracting, and when I left school and joined him on the farm, we pushed on with this side of the business. It helps spreads the costs of our own farm machinery.
“Then in 2000, one of the utility companies was laying a large water pipe that had to come through our farm. One of my friends worked for the water company and tipped us off that they would be looking for a contractor to re-instate the grassland after the pipe was laid.
“And that’s how it all started. We got the contract: all the soil had to be put back and then we ploughed and power harrowed before reseeding it with our harrow and seeder and then flat-rolled the ground.
“In 2005, we had a big gas line come through and we did quite a lot of work for that too.
“When a utility company comes into an area – whether it’s for a gas, electric or water pipe – they’re always on a deadline and want the job done in a rush. The people working on the utilities are land managers: their priorities are to lay the pipe and shift the soil back.
“I find the people who work on farms, and those that work for utilities companies are different sorts of people! Or maybe it’s the different priorities. However, because we farm too, we’ve got a lot of empathy with the farmers who get frustrated by all the disruption. In fact, we’re often the bridge between the two sides, helping to smooth the whole process.
“The utility contracts can be quite bitty work, and it can be quite frustrating to co-ordinate on a daily basis. Sometimes we have to wait for the site to be inspected before we can go on and start our job. And of course, all this work comes at the same time as agricultural jobs need doing, plus we’ve our own dairy herd to look after too.
“These days there are three of us: me, my father and a full-time stockman/tractor driver. We also have three self-employed tractor drivers we can pull in at peak times.”
Ian explains: “When we started out with the agricultural contracting, we would use an OPICO 6m Grass Master harrow and Air8 seeder. When we got busier, we replaced this with another Grass Master but with an Air 16 seeder.
“Four years ago, when we saw there was scope to further expand the reseeding side of the business, we decided it was time to upgrade our kit again.
“We looked on the internet and found a video of the HE-VA Grass Rejuvenator on Youtube. It’s a machine that was originally designed for overseeding, but it can also be used for seeding onto cultivated ground. The big attraction for us was that fewer passes would be needed.”
The Rejuvenator consists of an aggressive Shattaboard with slicing plates, followed by two rows of heavy duty harrow tines, and a heavy 600mm diameter Prisma ‘tooth’ roller. The slicing plates and harrow tines break up and level the soil surface in front of the grass seed outlets, and the soil is then firmed behind by the roller.
Ian explains: “We had a demo model from our local dealer Rickerby and eventually bought a trailed 6.3m model.
“With the harrow and seeder set up we could use a 100hp tractor but with the heavier Rejuvenator we are using a 180hp tractor.
“The paddles at the front are quite aggressive – as they’re designed to scuff up the surface and create a tilth for seeding. We’ve also found they can be used to lightly grade the soil.
“When we’re reseeding, we’ll make 3-4 passes with the Rejuvenator to level and comb the soil. Then we put the seed in just using the tooth roller, having lifted the other sections up. We’ve had some really good results doing it this way.
“The roller is key: it presses the seed into the soil. You can see where you’ve been and the ground doesn’t need to be rolled again. Establishment is very good. Germination is even.”
“There are still, however, some situations when we need to power harrow first before going in with the Rejuvenator.
“When over-seeding we used to make 3-4 passes with the harrow to get a tilth before seeding. But with the more aggressive Rejuvenator we can go straight in and seed in just one pass.”
Ian explains: “Some of the utilities work can take us 40 miles away from the farm. We’ve gone as far as Carlisle, Warrington and Harrogate.
“Sometimes we need only take the Rejuvenator, other times we also need the power harrow if the soil needs levelling or breaking down. But overall it’s more economical than always having to take the plough. It all saves cost and time.
More utilities work
“We want to expand our utilities work. Why? The opportunities are sporadic but it’s a niche market and it’s quite well paid! With utilities contracts, we often have to wait around, and there’s a lot of extra politics. So we can justify higher rates to cover us for dealing with the farmers whose land we are going on to. Plus we always need to assess the ground first, and can charge for our time doing that.
“By comparison, if my neighbour asks me to reseed a field, I don’t need to inspect it, I’ve been there before! With our agricultural contracting, we just get paid for the time we spend working.
“Last year we reseeded over 1000 acres, including 150 acres sown for utility companies. It was too dry to do much over-seeding, but we did about 100 acres with the Rejuvenator, including our farm. We are still keeping the one harrow with the Air 16 seeder, as a spare machine.
“The Rejuvenator is a more expensive machine than a harrow and seeder. However it’s very robust, and has the build quality to reseed a lot of acres. Something we are hoping to do more of for utility companies.”
This article first appeared in May 2019