Kent farmer, contractor and agricultural engineer, Tony Warner, clocked-up a remarkable 60 successive years of combine harvester operation in July 2013 when he took the wheel of a new Massey Ferguson BETA 7360 combine.
Capable of covering upwards of 2.5 ha/hr, the MF BETA 7360PL was purchased in 2013 from local Massey Ferguson dealer, Agwood Ltd, to assist with the harvesting of 520ha of combinable crops grown on land farmed and share-farmed in east Kent by Tony’s family business, A W Warner and Sons Ltd. The new combine was used also by the firm’s contract arm which harvested this year close to 240ha of wheat, barley and oil-seed rape on behalf of farmers located within a 10 mile radius of the company’s base and workshops at Ash, near Canterbury.
The very first combine harvester driven by Tony Warner in the early 1950s was a Massey-Harris 726 bagger-type machine with a petrol/paraffin fuelled engine, 2.4m header and a maximum capacity of around 3ha during a 10 hour working day. Aged just 18 when he embarked on the first of 60 successive seasons of combine harvester operation, Tony had been working since the age of 15 for the contract business established in 1946 by his father, Albert.
Starting off with ploughing contracts on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, the firm had progressed quickly into other areas of farm work, including drilling, crop harvesting using a tractor-drawn binder and spraying, an unpleasant and hazardous task at the time.
The decision to purchase a combine harvester was prompted by Albert Warner’s belief that the days of the stationary threshing machine were numbered.
“Dad reasoned that it would be far more efficient to drive to a field and cut, thresh and winnow the crop in one pass using a single combined machine,” recalled Tony. “Having learnt the basics of farm machinery operation during my early years in the business, I was entrusted with the job of driving our new combine harvester on all of the contracts secured in our first full year with the new machine. I never thought that I would still have the opportunity to drive a combine harvester in 2013.”
Although formed originally as a whole farm contracting service, A W Warner and Sons now encompasses a farm machinery maintenance and repair business as well as running its own 275ha arable enterprise and share farming a further 245ha, all of the land devoted to combinable crops.
“The business expanded rapidly during the 1950s when we established our own workshop to look after the machines being used for our contract work,” pointed out Tony. “Very soon, local farmers were asking us to maintain and repair their equipment and this side of the business has gone from strength to strength, currently employing three full-time engineers and a storeman.”
In 1975, Tony purchased his first arable holding, farming the land as an extension to the contracting arm of the business. Today, both the farm and contract operations are managed by son, Alan, with support from three long-serving and experienced employees.
“At the age of 78, I’ve now taken more of a back-seat in the business but still relish the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a combine harvester,” said Tony. “The new Massey is a wonderful machine, a world apart from the first one I drove 60 years ago. I recall coming home ears ringing and covered in dust, grime and perspiration. Today, you can go combining in a jacket and tie and know everything about the crop and the way the combine is performing at the touch of a screen. I can only applaud the huge progress made in farming and farm mechanisation during my lifetime.”
“The new Massey is a wonderful machine, a world apart from the first one I drove 60 years ago”
“At the age of 78, I’ve now taken more of a back-seat in the business but still relish the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a combine harvester”