Just over two years ago, there were no Valtra tractors in WR Chapman & Son’s extensive machinery fleet. Now there are 12. David Williams reports.
Norfolk-based farmer and contractor WR Chapman & Son operates a huge modern machinery fleet, allowing the family-owned business to provide an efficient and timely contracting service to farms within a 30 mile radius of its Lilac Farm, Eastmoor base. Harvesting and spraying are main activities and 2 forage harvesters, 3 combines and a sugar beet harvester are owned, along with approximately 15 tractors and a wide selection of trailers.
As well as farming its own 525ha, approximately 800ha are contract farmed stubble-to-stubble with all fieldwork carried out by the company. Within the crop rotation maize is grown for a local AD plant and the company has a 10-year contract to drill and harvest more than 2,450ha of rye and maize in the local area for the plant. Included in the machinery fleet are three Dezeure overload trailers with moving floors, bought to cart maize in the field from harvesters and tip directly into waiting lorry trailers at the headland. Two precision drills establish the crop and a recent major purchase was a large self-propelled slurry injector, mainly used for digestate from the plant.
The Chapman family is spoiled for good dealers nearby representing all the main tractor brands, so when new machinery is needed there are always plenty of options to consider. “Our customers expect an efficient and reliable service, which means machines have to be kept working. To do that we rely on our teams of full- and part-time staff, having the right machinery for the job and great back-up from dealers when things go wrong, which they will sooner or later,” said partner Will Chapman.
The business was started in 1971 by William ‘Bill’ Chapman when he purchased a Whitlock digger for £275 and began a plant hire service. A small area of land was owned and farmed using a limited selection of machinery. Bill’s son Bernard ‘Bernie’ joined his father and eventually took over running the business and hoped sons Will and younger brother Ben would eventually join the business.
Will enjoyed farming and working on farm machinery but wasn’t as interested in plant hire and, on leaving school he worked for local farmers and agricultural contractors as a machinery operator. Ben joined the plant hire business and, in 2007, Will was given a choice; to either come home and look after the family’s expanding farm and build his own successful contracting business, or make a career elsewhere. He returned home and machinery was purchased for dual roles on the family farm and for the expanding contracting operation. A self-propelled sprayer was purchased for which demand quickly grew, then a combine joined the fleet with harvesting added as an additional service.
The plant hire fleet also expanded, including running more than 20 large loading shovels for British Sugar across 4 processing factories.
Will took over running the business in 2015, and now the farm and agricultural contracting activities dominate activities and are run by Will, his wife Alex, brother Ben, father Bernie plus farm manager Paul Addison.
There are 23 full-time staff and additional labour is taken on from June to October for the busy season from the start of wholecrop rye harvesting through baling, corn carting and then maize harvest. Most seasonal labour is from New Zealand as the Chapman’s busy period coincides with it being quiet there, and the work ethic and productivity of New Zealanders is considered excellent.
Bernie continues to oversee the plant hire business which specialises in irrigation reservoir construction and quarry equipment and the fleet includes four articulated lorries, mainly for bulk transport but also to move machinery by low loader.
A wide mix of machinery brands is owned with full-time operators consulted regarding most buying decisions. “It’s important to involve the team and listen to their views as they spend long working hours in the seat during busy periods,” said Will. “With plenty of good dealers about we can be reasonably flexible as to which tractors are purchased, as long as the deal is competitive.”
Chance first drive
In 2016 local Agco dealer Thurlow Nunn Standen demonstrated a new cereal drill, which arrived on the farm behind the dealer’s demonstration Valtra.
“We hadn’t considered Valtra previously but when our operators tried it with the drill they were impressed by its performance and comfort. So, when we were in the market for two new tractors just a few weeks later we asked the dealer for a quote,” explained Will. Two new 250hp Valtra T234s were delivered in June 2016 just as new area sales manager Jolly Bullen joined the dealer’s team.
“They were the first Valtras we supplied after taking on the franchise,” he explained. “They quickly impressed the Chapmans to the extent that two more were ordered in early 2017, followed in September 2017 by five more, replacing another brand hired for the busy summer period.
“Then this year two additional 271hp T254 models were ordered, with extra power for the Chapman’s Massey Ferguson 2290 balers and equipped with high speed transmissions and, this autumn, a bigger S394 joined the fleet for heavier field work including ploughing and drilling.”
All the tractors are black with black wheels, tinted windows and silver decals matching the Chapman’s trailer fleet, and each has the New Zealand Silver Fern emblem on the bonnet. The Silver Fern celebrates the addition to the team of Will’s wife Alex who is from New Zealand having met Will when he was contract combining for a neighbouring farm where she was working as seasonal labour.
“The tractors look really smart,” explained Will. “We run an efficient modern machinery fleet and pride ourselves on a professional service to customers. These tractors are seen in fields and on roads across west Norfolk and the Valtras are distinctive.”
“The tractors come through Valtra’s Unlimited studio,” continued Jolly. “Any colour combination and finish is available making it easy to match the exact specification and appearance requested by the customer.”
All the tractors came with a manufacturer’s 5-year or 6,000hr warranty, but the intention is to replace them with warranty remaining to enhance resale values; typically after 4,000 hours worked when they are 2–3 years old. “Most do mainly trailer work but some do more than 2,000 hours per year so we keep an eye on the hour meters and swap the tractors about to keep the hours similar across the fleet,” said Will. “Each machine has one operator as far as possible as they tend to be looked after better, but when full time drivers move across to combines and forage harvesters in the busy season, then part time drivers take over that tractor. Then we make sure the tractor and user remains in a team with the tractor’s usual driver so he can keep an eye on it.”
Will said that after two years operating Valtras he remains impressed. “They are reliable and perform well,” he said. “They are built strongly, there is good clearance underneath which makes them ideal for baling and root crop bed work such as de-stoning. Transport performance is good and they are great for drilling and ploughing. Fuel consumption is very good, but more important is their popularity with users and the whole team likes them and gets the best from them.”
Back-up from Thurlow Nunn Standen has been excellent. “Every machine suffers issues occasionally and when anything goes wrong service engineer Luke McDaid at the Attleborough depot goes out of his way to look after us. He’s obviously passionate about the Valtra brand which is reflected by his enthusiasm, but if issues can’t be solved immediately or when we have waited for new tractors to be delivered there have always been loan tractors available if needed.”
Bernie Chapman agrees; “They look smart and as long as the dealer continues looking after us as well as it has done so far then we have no doubt the Valtra brand will be part of our future. Between Thurlow Nunn Standen and Valtra it’s hard to find fault.”
So far the tractors have all been Versu versions with powershift transmission which has proved efficient and easy to use, but Will and Ben are keen to try a Direct CVT model for extra speed flexibility, particularly with drilling in mind.
The two latest T-series both have Valtra’s new SmartTouch display which comes in for particular praise. “It’s easy to set up and use with logical menus,” commented Bernie. “We have RTX guidance on these tractors and even inexperienced users can quickly find their way around the system. Just showing them how to set the A-B line is enough and from there they quickly make the most of the features and accuracy available. We have RTK guidance on some of the earlier machines through the previous displays which are good, but it takes a while to learn how to use them. The SmartTouch display is much better.”
The new S-series has a front linkage and PTO as well as Valtra’s TwinTrac reverse drive. “We specified the options so that we can use it on the silage clamps if needed,” explained Ben. “One of the T-234s has the reverse drive option too making it ideal if it’s needed for mowing.”
“The Valtras are very distinctive and created great interest with customers, neighbours and other contracting businesses as we bought the first 2 tractors, then the following 10,” added Will. “They aren’t cheap but they aren’t the most expensive brand either and we believe they offer good value for money. The manufacturer’s warranty is reassuring and the back-up from Thurlow Nunn Standen at Attleborough is superb. Our objective is to continue growing the business, increasing both the amount of contract-farmed and owned land as opportunities arise, and I expect Valtra will continue to be our primary consideration whenever we update our tractors.”