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Steve Bowen - Bowen Contractors

What’s the background of the business?
My dad started the contracting in 1990’s. We sold that business off in 2003 to concentrate on diversifying this was when we put up a play barn up as well as a few other things. Some of us went off doing baling for people and I went off and worked for Pottinger demonstrating for them all over the UK.
We saw a gap in the market for doing work with a forage wagon and decided to take the opportunity to jump back in. We got asked to do a lot of work for one customer to start with and that kind of set us up then really to get going.

How many customers are you contracting for currently and what size area are you covering?
I would say customer base around the 50 mark. Main customers that we deal with for the bulk of work would be 8 or 9. They are 2 main customers that would be our main income for the business.
We cover about 2000 acres of grass with the forage wagons.
The drill has just clocked on 512 hectares and we have had that just over a year. Did over 1000 acres a year of drilling. Keeps us busy! The business takes us all over the place really predominantly Hereford, Shropshire, Wrexham.
Straw chopping takes us up to Wem and places like that and the silaging with the forage wagons takes us down to Hereford. Then quite a lot of our work is based around Shrewsbury now.

Where do you see the business going?
We are expanding the farm back home, just taken on another 180 acres back there which is predominantly sheep and arable. All that work is done by my brother and dad really. Brother does the animal side and I and other lads tend to do the contracting side.
We have two full time lads with me on the contracting full time. We would like to take on more staff if we could but it is extremely difficult to get staff, we find a lot of our customers find it difficult as well.

It is incredibly difficult to say what will happen with Brexit but I would hope it’s going to continue growing. When I look at us four or five years ago we only had one Fendt and now we are up to four. We tend to be pretty much flat out throughout the year and I hope that the ground covered continues to increase and keep busy. Five years ago we were farming 40 acres ourselves and now we are up to 400 so that’s a good indication of our expansion and ambition to continue to grow.
Hopefully people see we are providing a professional service to the best that we can and that will mean that people will keep coming back to us.

What features do you like most about the tractor that makes it good for your work?
We have three 720’s and a 718 all on Fleet Hire/long term from RVW PUGH.
I do prefer the 720 to the 820 just because it’s the newer version so the cabs a bit more spacious and all the added luxury of a newer tractor!
The most important features to me would have to be comfort and the Vario, gearbox is brilliant and everything on the tractor is to hand. All the technology is so good, the screen is great and very importantly for us the information that you can see on fuel usage which enables us to monitor costs, know exactly how much diesel we are using in different applications. Just simple to drive, all the controls fall to hand. The comfort is just another level especially in the new 7 series, the old one was still comfortable don’t get me wrong but it was a little dated I suppose. You can spend a day in them and not come out aching which you do with other tractors. When some days you can be doing 24 hours it’s important to have a comfortable tractor and I can’t complain when it comes to the Fendt tractors.

Do you find it hard to agree when people say they are difficult to drive?
It’s a driver’s tractor! Once you have educated someone to drive one you will not want to drive another tractor. We are working on a farm at the moment on their John Deere and going back there to drive it is horrible in comparison. Everything is just so easy once you have it set up to do what you want it to do. Press the button and go really.

What applications are you using the 720’s for?
Pretty much all the contracting operations so the forage harvesting, drilling, everything. The only thing we don’t use them for is the fencing and hedge cutting the older smaller tractors can take on those roles.

How do you find the size /power?
So much more manoeuvrable than other tractors, if you line this up to its competitors it’s so much more compact. We were ploughing the other day and we lined up a JD175 next to the Fendt 720 and the size difference was massive it was probably another 2 foot taller if not 3- 4 foot longer and when your messing around on some of the hills and slopes we are an extra 2 foot up in the air makes a huge difference. Also much more manoeuvrable, you can keep your headlands tighter. Quite a few people comment on the John Deere being bigger so it must put the weight down better but you can always add weight, that’s not a problem. It’s dropping weight that is the bigger problem. I am seriously impressed with the 720 lock as well. Especially the tight yards we get into when we are silaging it can be quite tough.

Do you use guidance on the tractors?
No, we don’t use any guidance on the tractors we currently have. We have a simple light bar system but that is used on the older tractors for spraying. It is something that we want to look into especially going forward with the GPS, variable rate and things like that. The arable side is something that was taking off more and more in the last 2/3 years so we focussed on the forage wagon really and not too much of a demand on that side of things.

How do you find the fuel efficiency?
Massively happy with it! Most of the jobs we are on we are drilling 20l/ha something like that. Forage wagons are on about 18l/hour. Compared to the other tractors I have driven this year I am very happy with the fuel savings and the AdBlue as well it doesn’t use very much as I have seen with other makes, again all contributing to cost. It’s very handy to be able to monitor everything on the screen what you are using throughout the day. From what I have heard and seen we seem to be using less than other people that’s for sure. Definitely no complaints in that department.

Did you try any competitive brands before deciding on the Fendt?
We always see other things and we get to drive other makes but we have always stuck with the Fendts really since we started in 2011 with them. We haven’t had any other need to change we are happy and always come back to the Fendt.
Price is always a factor when buying machinery and kit but if there’s a machine out there that you want and you know its right for you then you have to try and justify the cost.

What did you think of the Fendt 313 that you hired the beginning of the year?
We used that for raking, lovely little tractor. I used it on some fertiliser spreading as well and it’s so manoeuvrable. Everyone liked the tractor. Would have been an ideal loader tractor the only thing that would be missing from the one we had was front linkage so we were missing a bit of weight on that front end. But apart from that everyone liked it and the fact it was 40kPH as well was great. Very nice to drive! For one of Fendt’s smaller tractors she did not struggle at all. She was dragging a 12 tonne muck spreader across banks with full loads and coping just as well as the 180HP. We have a 516 that was at the farm and that was used on the forage harvester this time and that was pulling just as hard as an 820 which blew me out the water really. I was so surprised how well that pulled considering the hilly ground that we were on. It was giving the 820 a run for its money. Very impressed! We concentrate a lot on tyre pressures to get the best out of the tractor.

Why RVW PUGH?
Very happy with the back up and get on well with the staff. Very happy! Service is great. Very friendly company to deal with. We mostly deal with Robert directly but if I have a problem with anything workshop related I call Jeremy the service manager and they are both quick to help us and sort us out. We have dealt with Robert since day 1 and we get on well so we tend to call him mostly but I know some of the lads at Pugh’s, Churchstoke so I know I will get someone to help whatever happens. Again, a friendly bunch if you ever need help with anything. If there is ever a severe problem, which does not really happen, Robert sorts us out in a matter of hours. Whether that is by getting the service lads out or providing a tractor to keep us going, one time within 3 hours we had a low loader here to take the tractor away to get sorted and another one delivered to let us carry on. We have never had any major breakdowns in the whole 6 years that we have been using them to be honest. You hear a lot of horror stories from other manufacturers and luckily we haven’t experienced that with Fendt and RVW Pugh.
I get on very well with Gavin and Gary and always make sure that they are looked after if they are called out, get a coffee ready for them when they arrive if we can. They look after us very well and cannot fault the service with them. It’s rare they cannot sort a problem out over the phone, very impressed with service in general.
We are always looked after well with Robert and RVW Pugh. Only positive feedback just tell him a better price next time then 
In terms of Hire cost and efficiency of the tractor is it an effective package from RVW PUGH?
Yes we like to deal with Robert because he has always looked after us when we are buying kit or hiring. Even when its Pottinger kit we always come to Robert. We will have to look at buying a tractor in the future but it makes sense right now to hire and it works well for us.

You use a lot of Pottinger product is that because you know it well?
It’s a great product; I would say one of the best on the market. I would not want to move away from the forage wagons and rakes, grassland wise I don’t see another manufacturer out there really that competes on their level. Arable we may look at a few different things. I have seen some of the new Fendt grass kit which I won’t say too much about, I like the Pottinger kit and I would say it’s the best quality in that market.
I see us as a company that uses the best product and I think Fendt tractors and Pottinger machinery is a good union. That could change and other companies may pull into the lead but we are happy with what we use at the moment. They work together very well and I don’t see us moving away from that anytime soon. Fendt tractors are top of the tree and so are Pottinger forage wagons. You always pay for what you get and if you want to pay peanuts you don’t get the best! Price has to be justified of course and you have your resale value on the Fendt tractors which is brilliant and all the features of a top quality tractor. If you’re going to spend a lot of hours in a tractor you have to enjoy it and like it.
What would be your dream machine?
I would like a Fendt 724 but we are happy with 200 HP at the moment. I mean a fleet of Fendts makes me very happy but a 724 would be lovely.