With the aim of diversifying his contracting business, we talk to one Cumbrian farmer who has invested in a tractor-powered crusher. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
Mark Cottam of MRC Contracting reckons most farms have a pile of concrete or rubble which can be recycled into useful aggregate.
It was a heap of old concrete in the farm yard which prompted Cumbrian farmer Mark Cottam to invest in a tractor-powered crusher. “I looked into getting the heap crushed by a plant hire firm, but their large kit needed a much bigger pile of rubble to go at, and the crushing costs were quite high,” he says. “So I looked into buying one that I could use for small-scale crushing jobs around the local area.”
Operating as MRC Contracting and based at Holmrook, Cumbria, Mr Cottam says the uses for crushed concrete are endless, but left in its original state from building works or demolition, piles of concrete and rubble are less attractive for their owners. “A nicely crushed stockpile of recycled concrete is great for building up gateways, for reinforcing farm tracks and for use as sub-base when putting up farm buildings,” he says. “There’s always a pile of rubble on a farm that can be put to good use - it just needs to be crushed into smaller pieces.”
Mr Cottam’s buying dilemma revolved around finding a suitable machine for the task. His options were to choose either a small, tracked machine and seek a suitable method of haulage, or opt for trailed version, in this case Herbst Machinery’s Agri Crusher. “A tractor-powered crusher seemed the obvious choice,” he says. “I could use one of our farm tractors to tow it around and power the crusher, and this way, I wasn’t paying for an extra engine, or expensive running gear on a tracked compact crusher. Nor was I faced with finding a haulage solution each time the machine was needed.”
The Agri Crusher is capable of processing about 250-300 tonnes of rubble per day.
The Agri Crusher is one of two concrete crushers built by the Omagh-based Country Tyrone firm. The other is the C100 - a steel-tracked machine with an intake feed conveyor. When it comes to crushing performance, the Agri Crusher is equipped with a 700mm by 400mm jaw, and is said to be capable of producing materials ranging in size from 40-100mm.
The amount of jaw opening determines the finished material size, and this dimension is altered and set hydraulically. It can also be altered while the machine is running. Typically, Mr Cottam has the machine set for a 70mm finished size. “70mm is a handy size of material,” he says. “But for those wanting a smaller material for a sub-base, he says 40-50mm is achievable. It also creates a smaller, finer material, which helps the crushed material to bind together.”
By taking all its power from the tractor, the Agri Crusher does not need any additional hydraulic or electrical power to operate once on site. “With a 200hp tractor up front, I haven’t found a location that I simply cannot reach. It is such a versatile and flexible solution, that I can crush concrete wherever there is a heap - even in the corner of a field.”
Mr Cottam adds that while the machine doesn’t need 200hp for crushing duties, it is not a lightweight unit, so having enough power up front is handy when moving between farms. “I’ve found that 100-120hp will run the crusher quite effectively,” he says. “It takes a couple of spool valves to deploy the hydraulic jack legs and then unfold and power the rear conveyor belt, then I can set engine revs at 1,500rpm and run the pto to power the jaw crusher. It doesn’t use a lot of fuel at those revs.”
Plenty of horsepower is beneficial when towing, though only 100hp is needed to power the crusher.
Bought in May this year, Mr Cottam hires the crushing outfit complete with tractor and operator, based on the volume of material to be processed. He says the biggest challenges he faces is convincing other farmers of how they can turn a rather useless pile of rubble into something much more valuable and useful.
Providing contract crushing services for local farmers and builders in the area, he reckons the Agri Crusher can process about 250-300 tonnes of rubble per day, creating a recycled hardcore product. Doing so results in a typical production cost of about £2-3.00/tonne - a fraction of the cost of quarried materials delivered to farm. “Compared to the costs of disposing of unwanted rubble, either by skip or tipper lorry and then buying in new aggregates, recycled hardcore is a cost-effective way of using resources that are likely to already be on your farm,” he says. “Local quarries are charging about £22/tonne delivered for recycled hardcore, which makes my crusher a cost-effective alternative.”
While most material on-farm is crushed to about 70mm in size, he says larger, bulkier items are processed initially to about 90mm and then fed back through the machine a second time to reach the final size to suit requirements. “It is much easier and more productive to crush larger material in two stages,” he says. “This keeps the crushing jaw filled to capacity, and makes the outfit more productive.”
He adds that the practicalities of concrete crushing means few jobs are time-specific, which makes this farm diversification an easy fit with his daily role on the family farm.
The tractor-driven Herbst crusher can reduce concrete and rubble to a range of crushed sizes from 40-150mm.
“A pile of rubble isn’t going to deteriorate or rot like hay or silage,” he says. “So there is flexibility in weaving the crushing work with jobs on the farm.” When it comes to feeding the crusher, he says that most farms he visits have a digger that can be used to load the intake hopper.
“It only needs a five-tonne or eight-tonne digger for loading,” he says. “Though loading needs a little bit of care, particularly when dropping larger lumps of concrete into the hopper,” he adds. “There is a speed sensor on the machine, with an overload warning too.”
“But by loading the machine myself, I can be a little more careful with the type of material that gets put through it. It is not a screen, so there is no point loading soil and dirt into the hopper.”
When deciding on his final specification, Mr Cottam chose an optional over-band magnet, and this sits over the top of the discharge conveyor. Should there be any pieces of metal or reinforcing bar in the crushed material, the magnet lifts it off the conveyor and drops it to one side for later recycling. “You can’t have bits of steel in crushed concrete if you want to use it for farm tracks,” he says.
While the fledgling business venture continues to find increasingly more farm-based customers, Mr Cottam sees additional opportunities among the forestry sector, where road building with crushed stone and concrete could offer improved access to woodlands.
“There are a lot of land-based sectors where crushed concrete can be utilised,” he says. “And a machine of this size and cost makes small piles of unwanted hardcore much more valuable and more cost effective to re-use than buying new aggregates.”