Herefordshire (UK), turkey farmer, Clive Thomas, is aiming to make his farm totally energy-independent over the next five years . . . and he is using Massey Ferguson tractors to help him achieve his goal.
Growing around 80ha of wheat and grass with son, Kelvyn, within the E and GM Thomas & Son family partnership, Clive’s principal enterprise for the past 25 years has been turkey-rearing, an operation that sees 90,000 birds reared each year under contract to Cranberry Foods. All of the wheat harvested on the farm is fed to the turkeys with the straw being used as bedding litter for birds that grow from 2kg to 19kg over 12 weeks.
Fan ventilation of the seven turkey-rearing sheds is an essential part of the operation and had been costing the business around £5,000 a month in electricity bills. This figure has been steadily reducing since the installation of an 800-panel solar photovoltaic array in fields close to the farm buildings.
Capable of producing up to 200kW/hr in full midday summer sunlight, the investment is expected to pay for itself within seven years. “Any surplus electricity produced is being fed back into the grid,” explained Clive. “Although the money we receive per unit is falling, the cost savings being made plus the income we are generating should see our investment repaid before the end of the decade.”
An important requirement of solar panels is the control of surrounding vegetation to prevent shading of the photovoltaic cells while permitting easy inspection and cleaning of the installation, when necessary. Mowing of the solar avenues and of paddocks around the farmstead, as well as the movement of smaller loads and materials around the farm, has been entrusted to a 46hp MF 1547 compact tractor supplied, in common with Clive Thomas’s other Massey Ferguson equipment, by MF dealer, JJ Farm Services Ltd, based near Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.
“I asked dealer sales representative, Ben Johnson, if MF offered a small, manoeuvrable tractor capable of powering a flail mower and a rotary cultivator,” said Clive. “He proposed the MF 1547 with a 12 x 12 synchro-shuttle manual transmission. The tractor has proved a revelation, having ample power for cutting back quite lengthy grass between the solar panels and for cultivating areas of uneven or rutted ground prior to levelling and restoration.”
To complement the generation of solar power, Clive is now planning the installation of a twin bio-digester unit fuelled by a combination of turkey manure, grass silage and green-cut wheat. The methane gas produced by the bio-digester will power engine-driven generators capable of supplying the farm’s entire electricity demand, including the farmhouse, enabling all of the electricity produced by the solar panels to be fed back into the grid.
Clive plans also to utilise all of the waste material from the bio-digester, either spreading it onto land as fertiliser or compressing it into briquettes for sale as fuel. Coolant water heated by the engines will not be wasted either, being used to provide hot water for the workshop and other farm buildings.
“Both my grandfather and father used Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors successfully, starting way back in the early 1950s,” explained Clive. “I have maintained this long association, currently employing two MF 6480s and an MF 6290 for all primary and secondary field operations ranging from cultivations to fertiliser spreading and spraying to haulage. We also run an MF 7256 Cerea combine.”
The farm’s latest number one tractor is a 255hp MF 7626 with Dyna-6 transmission delivered by JJ Farm Services in February this year to replace a 215hp MF 6499. Bought primarily to operate a 3m combination drill and, eventually, the forage harvester supplying green matter to feed the bio-digester, the tractor was selected foremost with power in mind.
“When fully operational, our energy generation systems will demand a consistent and reliable supply of material to maintain maximum output,” explained Clive. “Having used Massey Ferguson tractors on the farm for almost 60 years, we have every confidence in their ability to deliver the necessary performance, backed by first-class and dependable dealer support.”