Home » Issue 27-2023 » Around the world » Simplify for maximum efficiency: James Peck, GB

Simplify for maximum efficiency

Getting the maximum performance out of the fewest high-quality parts is an approach that has also been applied to P.X. Farms by its owner James Peck. However, simplification is not the same as simple. It is an intelligent reduction of complications to increase performance and efficiency.

Farming more than 12,500 acres of arable land around Dry Drayton near Cambridge, England, with just seven tractors is one indication of how James and his team do more with less. James Peck talks to terraHORSCH about how his business has grown over the years and how he maximises the productivity of his staff and machinery.

Contracting starts early

P.X. Farms Ltd celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 2023, but James began his agricultural contracting career earlier while in college. By 1998, James had finished at Writtle Agricultural College, and although the Peck family were farming 750 acres of their own land and contract farming a further 150 acres around Scotland Farm at Dry Drayton, he realised this would mean three generations living off the farm and decided to work abroad for a year.
Returning to Dry Drayton Estate in 1999, James noted how things had changed and began looking at doing more with less machinery. “While I was away, agriculture had gone from £180 per tonne down to £60 and agriculture was changing dramatically.”
James worked with his father on the farm for three years and established Peck’s Contracting Services. “In 2002, we bought a new combine and a new Challenger. And I think I had spent more money in those two purchases than my father had probably invested in the entire farm. Actually, in today's money, they were incredibly good value.”

P.X. Farms Ltd is born

By 2003, James’ father decided he didn’t want to continue farming but James had an aspiration to grow the business and farm 3000 acres. A contract farming agreement was set up, P.X.Farms Ltd was born and took on the Dry Drayton Estate contract along with others.  
All the machinery was valued, and James arranged finance for the items he could afford. “We went from a five-tractor model down to one and I managed to do that by pretty much selling everything we had. I started contract farming for neighbouring farms and at that time pretty much all of the cultivations were plough-based.”
Purchasing a Gregoire Besson Discordon allowed James to offer a ‘discing and subsoiling in one pass’ service. “It was the only real alternative to the plough, and we picked up quite a lot of work, allowing us to nearly double the land to 1600 acres including 880 acres of our own.”
James tended for and won a 350-acre farm contract. “That was a game changer and took me to nearly 2000 acres. It was contract farming, so it was positive cashflow. I couldn't have done any of this if it was on a rent.” With a careful eye on cost per acre, P.X. Farms was able to do good work with a profitable margin. Even though the land had increased James was farming by himself with one other person. “I had to become quite good at doing a lot of things on my own.”

More land and bigger machinery improve efficiency

By 2006, James noted that machinery prices were increasing yet the competitive market of contract farming was keeping rates the same. “At the time 8m was about the biggest equipment and there weren’t the high horsepower tractors available. Actually, the pounds per acres were higher than they are today.”
“The jump to 2000 acres was a big one. I had always followed a one-combine model and Claas were bringing out bigger machines. While it appears combine capacity was a key factor in our development, we were always looking to take on land. Although your daily aspiration is to take on the next-door field, if you want to grow your business, you have to go where the land is.”
Today, while P.X. Farms Ltd has most of its land within an 18-mile radius of the home farm, there is land 71 miles away in one direction and 34 miles in another. “We tried satellite farming where we had another workshop and set it up and ran it as a different farm and it was hugely inefficient because we had to buy everything again. Whereas we now drive to them.”
While the journey by car between farms is practical, moving combines is far more time consuming. “That's the beauty of multiple machines and where it starts to get easier. I could take on another 1000 acres today, with the systems we have, without having to make further investment.”

P.X Farms Ltd.

3 x Challenger crawler tractors
4 x Fendt wheel tractors
4 x Claas Lexion combines with 12 m headers
4 x HORSCH Titan 34 UW chaser bins
HORSCH Leeb PT 280 self-propelled sprayer with 36 m boom
HORSCH Leeb PT 8.300 self-propelled sprayer with 36 m boom
2 x HORSCH Leeb 5 LT trailed sprayers with 36 m booms
HORSCH Sprinter 12 SW drill
2 x HORSCH Serto 12 SC drills
HORSCH Pronto 6 KR drill
HORSCH Finer 6 with seeding kit as a wet weather drill
HORSCH Joker 12 RT cultivator
HORSCH Terrano 12 FM cultivator

Maximising productivity in controlled traffic farming

In 2010, James was awarded a prestigious Nuffield Farming Scholarship to study the future of arable farming. The advantages of controlled traffic farming featured heavily in his study and the practice was adopted across the whole P.X. Farms operation.
“The Nuffield experience has dominated developing how the business is today. Controlled traffic farming is a great measurement and a discipline. It's the discipline that you need to grow the business.” In addition to the 1800 acres now owned, all contract farming has been moved to CTF by P.X. Farms. “Once we get it mapped, the next operator who comes into the field doesn't have to think about where he starts, he just gets in the field and he's off. And the one after that and the one after that. We created the discipline that they must do that, and the efficiency is that it's all been pre-planned. That's made a big impact on the business.”
“The limitation and the success of controlled traffic farming is that everything has to be in 3m, 6m, 12m, 24m or 36m sizes,” says James but it is driving efficiencies, increasing yields and saving resources. This has required moving over to compatible width machines which were in short supply when James began.

What is Nuffield Farming?

Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust is a UK charity aiming to inspire passion in people and develop their potential to lead positive change in farming and food. It awards life-changing scholarships to unlock individual potential and broaden horizons through study and travel overseas, with a view to developing the farming and agricultural industries.
Each year scholarships are awarded to approximately 20 deserving individuals working in farming, horticulture, forestry or any other countryside and ancillary industry. The first scholarships were awarded in 1947 and since then over 1,000 Nuffield Scholars have completed their studies and travel to make an impact on farming and food.

“Our 12m Sprinter drill is a crawler-based drill and only a certain operator is able to use it. Whereas the two 12m Serto drills are a lot simpler because they are tractor-based.”
James has not changed the Sprinter since 2012 because “apart from having some new bushes et cetera, actually everything else is so robust on it. That was one of the main reasons we moved to HORSCH. If kit can cope with being dragged about by a 600hp tractor year in, year out, then you know it's strong.”
“The Pronto 6 KR drill has also been amazing. Whether dry or wet, we can go through anything at any time. We've got lots of HORSCH kit here, something for nearly every weather window you can imagine.”
“My aspiration is to be hugely efficient. I only have four 400hp wheeled tractors and three 600hp crawlers. There are two self-propelled sprayers because two of the wheel tractors go on trailed sprayers. There are four combines paired with four chaser bins, and a Unimog. I've probably got less machines than some 4000-acre farms would have. I love machinery but I don’t like it sitting about not earning money. I want it to be really good and productive.”
The purchase of two Serto drills has been a positive step, says James, because they utilise the smaller tractors. The addition of the third Challenger crawler allowed a 12m Terrano cultivator to be added. “It pulls very well and does a fantastic job and leaves a better finish.”

Block farming allows James and his team of eight permanent staff and a further four casual labourers to manage the land efficiently. Detailed maps and work schedules (both in digital and hardcopy format) group and colour code fields by crop type. This enables the teams to work systematically across the land with the minimum amount of travelling between sites.
James has highlighted that operator attitude and training has now become the key factor in the productivity of the business.


“The moment somebody decides not to drive over the weighbridge because it was quicker, all the other information that you’ve gathered is rubbish. That's why we now make things so simple here that people cannot come up with their own version of events.
“All the field gates have our name on because you'd be surprised how an operator on our scale business could end up cultivating the wrong field. Everyone has a manual of every farm with map of the things like the entrance points to the fields. They know if the name on the work schedule isn't the name on the GPS display, then they're in the wrong field. It's simple details but I had to come up with all this to avoid the problems.”

Efficiency is the future of farming

Farming 12,500 acres with the machinery P.X. Farms owns highlights James’ drive to maximise the productivity. “We don’t do scratch tillage or regenerative. This is properly sub-soiled and cultivated, but the principle is to work efficiently in a process that is simple and repeatable.”
It is a farming model that is scalable. “Our investment in our grain store means it can now hold up to 100,000 tonnes. But it's all part of the jigsaw and it all fits together in a very efficient way that if we had another 10,000 acres thrown at us, we could do it.”