Nearly every farm in the UK now enlists the services of an agricultural contractor.
That’s how important the sector, that is now arguably the largest employer in the farming industry, has become since the formation of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, which amazingly started way back in 1893.
Gone are the days when contracting was simply an additional income to the family farm whereby sons and daughters paid their way as an alternative enterprise.
Today, agricultural contractors are often large scale, heavy capital outlay businesses in their own right employing large teams of farm machinery professionals.
Further proof of how reliant today’s farming world has become on the agricultural contracting world is shown in statistics compiled by Farm Contractor magazine that two years ago announced 91 per cent of British farmers used contractors; and 95 per cent of all large grassland equipment was now purchased by the sector.
Agricultural contractors’ annual spend on new tractors was given as £315m with £325m spent on other new farm machinery and £98m on used tractors.
Simon Dunn, of BHE agricultural contracting based at Studford Farm near Sproxton, started contracting with his father Chris in 1983 from their family farm at Breck House in Bransdale where his brother Tim still farms today.
Simon’s BHE business presently sees him employ 10 full-time men and running a current machinery log of 11 tractors, five balers, three telehandlers, a combine harvester, self-propelled sprayer, muckspreaders, ploughs, presses and drills as well as a multitude of other kit.
He believes the latest addition to his business, that came about through his son Will’s dissertation at Newcastle University, is set to change the face of agricultural contracting and other industries.
“We have always identified new techniques,” says Simon. “We were the first with the new style round baler and one of the first in the country to get a bale wrapper, a Vaderstad drill and shredder muck spreaders. We’ve been at the forefront of the GPS revolution; and precision farming techniques to a certain extent although Mother Nature still has a lot to say about that regardless of what any industry analyst tells you.”
Just how right Simon is over his assertion was proved when this year’s Contractor 2019 conference and exhibition at the East of England Showground scheduled for December 12 was cancelled.
This was due to very poor weather in autumn meaning many contractors are still working hard to play catch up where they can.
However, this hasn’t stopped Will from promoting HarvestYield The Contractor’s App at Newark Machinery Show and Croptech, the new kit Simon believes will help all contractors in any sphere – and in February father and son will be at YAMS at Murton where Simon is in no doubt it will have the same reaction.
“We’re in our third year of using HarvestYield The Contractor’s App and we have every man on it. I can see exactly what they are doing and can show you every job they have completed this year and exactly what machinery has been used as well as the time taken.
“What it means is our sector is more accountable than ever and everything is traceable. It helps our men too. It has done away with timesheets. We can itemise jobs much more clearly and our next step will be to use the app for invoicing.
“But this is far bigger than our sector, it could work for anybody who has a team of professionals whether they be joiners, plumbers, any kind of trade. My business has grown because of using The Contractors’ App and I see no reason why that shouldn’t be the same for everyone with a team with jobs in progress.
“Will now sells the app and there are already a substantial number of agricultural contractors using it and he has nearly 100 to follow up from Newark. Everyone gets a month’s trial and not one business that has taken it on has come away from it after that time. That includes farmers in Australia and New Zealand too.”
Baling and muck handling were once the cornerstones of Simon’s business and today baling still plays a large role in BHE, but muck handling plays a much lesser part due to a combination of some farmers not restocking after foot and mouth disease in 2001 and headage payments finishing in 2005.
“Our business had to adapt and we moved more towards arable work that today makes up two-thirds of our turnover. We have some very large clients including Wykeham Farms that we have taken on recently. We now have a core of 60 farms and work for over 300.”
Simon took on a completely non-agricultural diversification in November 2016 when he started with storage. He now has containers at Studford and Strensall where he also grazes sheep and cattle.
“I’d always wanted to diversify and if I hadn’t started with the storage job then I don’t know where I’d have been this year cashflow wise. That’s the reality.”