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Baling contractor invests in capacity

Some agricultural contractors specialise in crop spraying, some in large scale forage harvesting and others in crop establishment but for the contracting business of S.W. Witham & Sons its round baling that dominates the scene.

Based at The Forge, Blacksmith Lane, Erpingham, Norfolk, the family-owned business is run by partners Tom Witham, who founded the business and his sons Stephen and Alan.

“We operate a fleet of five round balers and reckon on making about 50,000 bales each year – 35,000 straw, 12,000 silage with the remainder made up of hay and haylage bales,” explains Stephen, who adds that there is also a ‘conventional’ baler to produce bales required by smaller livestock units.

Work tends to be in a 20 mile radius where there’s a good mix of farming systems with livestock enterprises and large arable units. Over the years, the business has established itself as a major provider of contracting services, including beet harvesting, muck spreading, hedge cutting and other contract work as well as baling.

The current round baler fleet extends to five variable chamber machines from the Kuhn range, each handling a share of the significant annual workload. The machines were chosen for their reputed strength and also their versatility.

“We were keen to have a variable chamber baler which could handle both straw and silage,” he says. “In the past we have had to use an extra baler which used rollers rather than belts just for the silage and that meant a cost increase we could do without.”

The line-up of Kuhn balers includes three VB 2160 machines, two of which are fitted with the manufacturer’s OptiCut chopping unit, and two of the larger VB 2190 balers.

Bales produced by the VB 2160 have a width 1.2m and a diameter from 80cm to 1.6m and the VB 2190 produces bales 1.2m wide and diameters from 80cm to 1.85m.

“Most of our customers opt for the 1.2m diameter when baling silage and 1.6m when on straw although there are those who go for the 1.85m diameter straw bale,” he says. “The important point is that we have balers which can meet these requirements on all crop types,” says Stephen.

But there is more to baling than just being able to provide different size bales – there is also the density of the bale to consider and in this regard Stephen pays tribute to the progressive density system.

“The bale starts in a pre-chamber where the belts and rollers create a core which can be selected to be soft or moderately dense,” he explains. “The belts progressively apply increased tension as the bale grows to produce a firm bale with a hard outer shell. I think our customers will appreciate the improved weatherability of the bales.”

Other features which muster favourable comments from Stephen and Alan include the one-piece OptiFeed rotor (the alternative to the OptiCut knife system) which feeds the crop directly into the bale chamber – short augers on either side centralise the crop and then double feeding tines power the crop inwards.

For the balers with the OptiCut chopping unit, the design is similar but special feed tines force the crop through a bank of 14 knives to provide a theoretical cutting length of 70mm.

“Both systems work very well – bales made with the OptiCut system weigh quite a bit more than those which have not,” he says. “The advantage for the customer is that if the bale is used in a diet feeder, the bale breaks down much more quickly.”

Should the intake become blocked, the pto clutch is automatically activated and the complete cutting floor, including the knives, can be lowered to allow the blockage to be cleared.

“I think this feature is really helpful,” he says. “It’s a fact that, on occasions, balers do become overloaded and blocked so it makes good sense to have a system which can unblock them with only a minimum of stoppage time.”

Moving into straw, the brothers reported the balers performed well in their first season – the high volume of straw in 2012 crops not presenting any problems.

“Each of the balers is producing about 500 bales a day – and that is with a mid-morning start,” says Alan. “Picking up a swath left by a combine with a 35ft header, we’ve been travelling at between 8 and 12kph and making a bale every 35 seconds.”

Alan adds that, at certain times in the season, straw can be brittle and sometimes very short when it leaves combines using rotary separation systems, but the balers continue to work well producing good, firm bales.

“We have yet to have all five balers working together but between us we should be aiming to make 3,000 bales a day and clear over 400 acres,” he says. “I would expect to see us exceeding our 35,000 bale target for straw in the coming season.”





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