When, in 1982, Stewart Theobald embarked on his farming career with 32 acres of land and a Massey Ferguson 590 tractor, few would have foreseen the thriving, multi-faceted business he runs in Essex – alongside two daughters and two sons – today.
From the beginning, contracting was the name of the game – and still is – at Button Farm, near Brentwood, only now on a much larger scale. Stewart takes up the story: “The contracting side is very busy, employing eight drivers throughout the year. We do a variety of contract work on over 2500 acres for a range of customers, in addition to the 300 acres that we rent ourselves for our own hay, haylage and straw.
“The tasks performed vary between hedge-cutting, flailing and ground works, to mowing, baling and wrapping hay,” he continues. “We also supply more than 3000 acres of straw for a variety of uses, from pig and turkey bedding, to the cattle and equestrian sectors.” A large amount of the straw is baled and supplied to farms in the West Country and north Wales.
Button Farm also accommodates an 8000-hen free-range egg unit, 25 beef suckler cattle, with calves at foot, and a sheep enterprise. The busy farm shop complements the livestock and contracting businesses, offering a wide range range of foods, pet requirements and equestrian products.
So, with quite a lot going on at and around the farm, what does the machinery inventory look like? The front line comprises five Massey Ferguson tractors – 7624, 7720, 7620, 7718 and 7618. There are also two MF 2150 4-string balers, a MF 2270 XD 6-string baler and a MF 1840 in-line conventional baler.
“We try to renew one of the tractors every 3-4 years,” Stewart explains, “while the mowers we try to do four seasons with before replacement. The rest of the kit is very well-maintained, so we look to replace when it starts to appear as though a machine might start to cost us a lot of money to keep going.
“Since I started contracting with the MF 590, we've tried both Ford and John Deere over the years. However, we have always gone back to MF, as we've found them to be very reliable.
The Button Farm view is that there really is nothing to dislike about MF machines. “Having said that,” Stewart comments, “we did notice that they've put the clock back into the 7700 Series, having taken it out of the 7600s – which we were really pleased about! All in all, we are very happy with Massey Ferguson – no complaints at all.”
The dealership referred to as supplying and servicing the Theobalds' MF machines – and some of their other implements – is Crawfords at South Woodham Ferrers, near Chelmsford, where their two main contacts are Wes Crawford and Nunzio Rio. “We like to think we have have a good working relationship with them and they have a fantastic workshop team,” Stewart says. “If we do have a problem, they're generally there within the hour to get us back working again.”
In summary, he makes the point that they rarely feel the need to advertise their contracting services, with the majority of the work coming by word-of-mouth. “But it's not very often that we turn work away through not having the right piece of equipment!”