Diversification is an important aspect of farm life for Essex farmer Will Ralph. He and wife Debbie operate a farm shop from their 400-acre Brick Kiln Farm, Stanway, near Colchester, engaging with customers seeking high-quality, locally grown and locally sourced produce.
“Having a shop as an integrated part of our farm provides a route to market through local customers,” explains Will Ralph. “Food miles are minimal, and we can provide traceability with all produce sold through the shop.”
What started as a 5,500-bird free-range egg business 25 years ago led the couple into developing an on-farm shop, with the goal of spreading risks. The shop offers a wide variety of fresh eggs, fruit, vegetables and meats, plus fresh bread courtesy of a local bakery.
In addition to its 1,000 laying hens and a flock of 90 sheep, Brick Kiln Farm grows 200 acres of combinable crops and 300 acres of grass. The area farmed is a source of high-quality hay and haylage, plus straw bales, to meet demand from local pet and equestrian customers.
“It was the only viable way to develop a sustainable business for a farm of this scale,” says Will.
He and employee Matthew Arnold carry out fieldwork with a mixed fleet of tractors. The lion’s share of the business is a baling season that can start as soon as the end of April, weather permitting.
“We produce 20,000 small bales and around 10,000 square bales each season,” says Will. “The conventional bales are contained to one metre long, making them easier for customers to handle. They’ll fit in the boot of a car quite easily.”
Front line fire-power for the fleet comes from an M7-152 and an M6-122 supplied by local dealer HOS Plant. With Kubota tractors accounting for 50% of the fleet, two other smaller tractors equipped with loaders, are used for bale handling, alongside a telescopic handler.
“With mowing, tedding, raking, baling and wrapping, there’s often four of us on hay making duties, so we need enough mechanisation to stay ahead of the weather,” adds Will. “HOS Plant provided a demo along with a very sensible deal that included a generous five-year warranty, and I couldn’t refuse.”
He says support from HOS Plant is second-to-none, with customer service being highly recommended.
“HOS Plant is proving to be a great dealer to have on your side,” he says. “And based on the success of the M7, we’ve since added one of the new M6-122’s with a similar warranty.”
Will Ralph favours the simplicity and build quality of the two Kubotas.
“I didn’t want a sophisticated control terminal or electronic spools, and both tractors have exceeded my expectations,” he says. “Having a powershift transmission and manual levers is all the complexity I need. But importantly, I have tractors that can be stripped of their weights, to tread lightly on ryegrass leys.”
He says the M7152 is also handy with the farm’s five-furrow plough, and a 3m power harrow drill combination.
“The tractors are affordable and reliable – Japanese engineering is among the best out there,” adds Will. “And having a 50kph tractor in the guise of the M7-152 makes my life easy and efficient when running to and from our outlying blocks of land.”