What is the price of good service? What I'm really asking, is what is the value of having good back-up when you need it?
We are looking at changing one of our machines and there is quite a price difference between all the options and I'm trying to work out what 'value' is the back-up. Could you put a price on it? Would you pay an extra 10pc for a machine because it had better service?
All machinery should have good back-up, but the reality is that as a small island it would be uneconomical to have a lot of garages. So inevitably, some are closer than others and some are better than others. In the middle of the harvest, when there is rain forecast, a good back-up service is priceless.
We have always been wary of bringing in machinery from Europe and the UK even though there are times when there is great value. Not only because of the risk of bringing in black grass and weeds but the bigger reason is the back-up. Most machinery dealers will look after their brand when imported, but obviously will give priority to their own customers. I also prefer the idea of buying Irish and keeping the benefit local.
We have such pressure at times during the year, with short weather windows to get a lot of work done. It is really important that everything works when you need it.
Every time we decide to change a machine I'm always shocked at the prices. With the poor yields this year after the drought and only a slight rise in prices, I worry about repaying the huge loans. If we decide to leave it for a few years, then we end up where we could have to change too many things in a short space of time, which is impossible.
Nowadays almost all machinery dealers keep the minimum amount of stock in store, as it is so fast to courier parts from Europe and UK and because there are so many different parts, for so many different makes and models. Soon I'm told that will all be done away with and they will be 3D printing all the parts we need. I'm not sure that will be available any time soon.
As the cold weather blows through the yard, I have no excuse not to do the paperwork. I always put it off till the last minute, but it has to be done. I have written up the grain assurance book and said a small prayer of thanks that even during our very busy times, we write everything up on the calendar as it happens. It is amazing how fast I can forget once the sowing is finished.
I like looking back over the last few years and having a look at what's changed. The varieties are very different, but so too are the sprays. How many of these will we have in the coming years and what changes will we have to make to comply with EU regulations? I do also worry about Brexit, but as I keep telling myself that if they don't know what's going to happen, there is no need for me to worry about it till it happens.
We also start planning for the spring, including checking our soil tests and starting our Nitrates Plan. The concern at the moment is that the prices of fertiliser seems to have jumped quite dramatically this year. We tried to buy some in the autumn but there was no value in what they were offering. The price of diesel seems to be very erratic as well. Up one week, then down the next.
We are also monitoring the grain in the sheds. We probe them weekly with a long grain thermometer. At the moment they are about 10oC but we still put on the pedestal fans when the air is cold and dry to keep the sheds and grain fresh. We have sold some for the end of the month so it won't be long before we are emptying them again.
Philip and Helen Harris are tillage farmers in Co Kildare. Follow them on Twitter P&H Harris @kildarefarmer