Jim Watt of East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire runs a busy contracting agency specializing in baling and forage harvesting.
Cashflow is among the greatest challenges dealing with his enterprise as farmers’ margins tighten and costs turn into extra risky.
Regardless of the challenges although, if the climate performs alongside and work goes in accordance with plan, he says there’s nothing higher than seeing the equipment out working.
We discover out extra about his enterprise and his farm equipment.
See additionally: Remapped tractors increase efficiency for Cumbrian contractor
Alexander Watt Contracting, Benthall Farm, East Kilbride
- Principal companies: Grass harvesting, slurry utility, combining, drilling and cultivating, spraying
- Employees: Three full-time, as much as 9 throughout seasonal peaks
How did you get into contracting?
We began in 1985, which was a notoriously moist 12 months. By October, we’d nonetheless not minimize a blade of grass, the cows had been attributable to are available and there have been no contractors obtainable to get the job executed.
With that, we purchased a trailed New Holland 717 forager to cut ours, and we ended up doing a neighbour’s, too.
Step by step, different native farmers stopped changing their machines, and we continued to work on a comparatively small scale till 1995, when a few contractors gave up.
Our first self-propelled got here that 12 months – everybody thought we had been off our heads on the time – and we’ve continued to increase since.
We’re now at capability and I don’t intend to tackle any extra work – summers come and go so quick you can find yourself with zero time for your self.
Principal contracting enterprises?
Baling and forage harvesting. We chop as much as 2,500ha of grass yearly inside a 40-mile radius of residence, however the acreage varies relying on the scale of the crop.
Final 12 months was a giant one and a few clients had stuffed their second-cut clamps with first-cut forage.
Then there’s 320ha of mixing, plus spraying, cultivating, drilling and, within the winter, slurry utility.
My dad all the time maintained that umbilical spreading was among the best innovations ever.
There’s no mess within the gateways and we are able to get on the bottom when it might be far too moist for a tanker.
The draw back is that some clients are actually shopping for their very own programs with the assistance of grant cash.
- Tractors Fendt 724 x2, 720, 716, John Deere 6250R x2, 6155R
- Combines Claas Lexion 5500 with 25ft Convio header and Lexion 530 with 18ft Auto Contour
- Forager Claas Jaguar 980
- Balers McHale Fusion 4, Claas Quadrant 5500 massive baler and McHale 998 sq. bale wrapper
- Grass Claas Disco 9200 butterfly x2 and 3200 entrance x2, Liner 2900 two-rotor and 4800 four-rotor rakes, Volto 1300 tedders x2, Einbock Grass-Supervisor harrow, Dalbo Maxiroll 630 flat rolls
- Slurry Slurrykat dribble bar and reelers, front-mounted compressor
- Handlers JCB 419S x2, TM320
- Sprayers and spreaders Knight 3,500-litre, 24m self-propelled, Kuhn Axis 40.2, Bunning Lowlander 105 x2
- Cultivators and drills Lemken Solitair 9+ 3m, Kverneland four-furrow ED85, Lemken energy harrow 3m, Erth Panbuster 3m, Dalbo Levelflex 2800 press, Dalbo Maxiroll 630 Cambridge rolls
- Principal different equipment Ktwo Roadeo 12t trailers x5, Iveco gritter lorry, BvL V-Combine 17-2S food plan feeder, McConnel PA53E hedgecutter
Any types of diversification?
None now, however I was into gritting in a giant manner. At one level, I used to be the one “fool” at it on this space, and the work I had on non-public websites was severely worthwhile.
I spent £16,000 on a lorry and, in some years, it might herald as a lot as a forager. I’d typically exit in my slippers and never depart the cab all evening.
Nevertheless, different folks finally faucet into these niches, and so they turn into extra aggressive and fewer worthwhile.
I’ve packed it in and left it to the landscapers, who are inclined to take care of the websites in the summertime after which need the gritting job to maintain their employees busy within the winter – often with a SnowEx at the back of a pickup.
However a heavy dump of snow kinds the lads from the boys, and often they will’t cope.
Most and least worthwhile enterprises?
Tedding is nice for us, as we are able to cowl a number of acres in a brief interval.
We used to run a 15m Lely however, when Agco took them on, sourcing spares turned an issue and we switched to Claas Voltos – primarily due to the service.
They’re usually low cost to run, though we did wreck one on a little bit of tough floor final 12 months.
The 6.3m Dalbo Maxiroll flat roll has additionally comfortably paid for itself. We regularly lease it out and farmers like it, as they will do in a day what would often take every week.
Combining is the least worthwhile. We’re within the flawed space for it and I’ve thought a number of instances about chucking it in, however it’s a service I really feel I’ve to supply to keep away from different contractors getting a foot within the door.
I additionally take pleasure in it – in contrast with silaging, with 10 males buzzing round at 100mph, all I’ve to fret about is getting my very own bottom on the seat.
A part of the issue is that the equipment isn’t low cost and we’ve to be over capability to handle the tight climate home windows.
We’ve flitted between operating one and two machines, however the second offers us the flexibleness to maintain clients comparatively glad when the climate is in opposition to us.
Different mandatory evils are slurry spreading and hedgecutting, which guarantee I can retain the lads over winter.
Though it’s costly operating comparatively new tractors on these jobs, hiring them in wouldn’t be less expensive than the hire-purchase agreements we’ve, and a minimum of we’ve an asset on the finish of it.
Largest threats to your corporation?
Cashflow. It’s turning into extra of an issue as clients’ margins get tighter, and the volatility of commodity markets all the time has a knock-on impact on how we’re paid.
Farmers shouldn’t must depend on grants to remain in enterprise; they need to simply get a good worth for what they produce, and so they’re definitely not asking for a king’s ransom.
It’s the one business the place producers get informed what they’re getting paid by the customer, even when it’s beneath the price of manufacturing, which I discover very unfair.
Once I first began, I might hearth out the invoices for first-cut silage and anticipate to have the cash quickly after.
For that motive, we’ve all the time tailor-made our finance packages to go well with, with smaller funds within the winter and greater chunks in the course of the harvesting season.
However with the price of inputs rising, clients are underneath extra pressure and the cash is slower to reach, which makes it tougher to time the outgoings.
The costs we cost haven’t come near maintaining with the price of equipment.
A 10t Fraser trailer was £3,000 within the Nineteen Nineties, however our newest Ktwo Roadeos had been £30,000.
And the brand new forager was the very best a part of £480,000, in contrast with our first self-propelled Jag 820 at £86,000 – and that appeared insane on the time.
Granted, it may cowl 120ha in a day moderately than 50ha, however one thing wants to vary.
Difficulties with employees recruitment?
There was as soon as a pool of males round right here milking 100 cows or thereabouts.
However their companies have both received greater or shrunk to the purpose that they’ve sought different employment, which suggests there are fewer operators to name on.
We’ve presently received two different full-timers and as much as 9 throughout harvest, however a few of them journey a great distance. One chap now comes down from Fife.
My mentality has modified, too. I was ready to work by way of the evening to get the job executed, however the older I get, the much less inclined I’m to do this.
I really feel as if I missed a number of time with my youngsters, summers glided by in a flash, and I by no means had an opportunity to sit back out and revel in them. Farm contracting is a younger man’s sport.
What excites you in regards to the season forward?
If the climate is with us, and every little thing goes in accordance with plan, then there’s nothing higher than seeing the equipment out working.
We’ve nonetheless received the capability to hammer it rapidly and get it over and executed with if situations are catchy, however it can inevitably find yourself with me pulling out what hair I’ve left.
New machines in 2023?
A brand new Jaguar 980 arrived a few months in the past. We determined to drop from two foragers – a 970 and 840 – to at least one, because the second machine was an costly luxurious that was fortunate to do 400ha/12 months.
As ordinary, I’ve taken it on a four-year finance plan to make the funds manageable, however I attempt to change the machines each two years if Claas can maintain the price the identical.
That’s typically the case, because the machines are nearly as good as new and all the time seller serviced.
I favor this method, as by supporting the sellers we are inclined to get preferential therapy ought to there be a breakdown or a guaranty downside.
The best way I see it, you cough up for both set funds or repairs, relying on which method you are taking.
I favor a hassle-free life – it solely takes one engine blow-up to obliterate your revenue.
The final forager stayed for 3 years as a result of the lengthy lead instances meant I couldn’t get one with the spec I wished.
Claas was prepared to stay with the agreed funds for a substitute 970 and stated it might honour the worth of the trade-in.
However then they couldn’t get me a 2022-built slot. It could have been no downside – I didn’t want it till harvest this 12 months – besides there was a looming end-of-year worth rise, which was going to price us an additional 15%.
Happily, Claas Germany had a 980 on the construct line with nobody’s identify on it.
It price £20,000 greater than the deal I had agreed, however I jumped at it, because it was far cheaper than a 2023-built 970 and provides us extra capability than we want.
It’s nicely specced – I’ve received the twin-header drive, central tyre inflation and just about every little thing else, besides a Quantimeter yield monitor.
I can’t make the price of that stack up.
Additionally on its manner is a McHale Fusion 4, which is able to change a pair of Fusion 3s that had executed three seasons.
The primary motive for dropping to at least one machine is that we’ve now received the Quadrant 5500 massive baler and a McHale 998 sq. bale wrapper that collectively are doing about one-third of the work.
Demand for squares is rising as we are able to stuff extra grass in a bale and so they make for a tidier stack.
For the purchasers, it prices about the identical per tonne of forage.
However the great thing about the Fusion is that it’s a one-man job.
Extra clients are asking for film-on-film wrapping, which solely one of many previous fashions was geared as much as do, and the Fusion 4 is meant to have improved so much.
The pick-up must be much better and we’ve gone to a 1,000rpm drive that’s stated to make an amazing distinction.
It has on-board weighing and moisture studying, too.
These are for us moderately than the purchasers – the film-on-film system will be fairly cantankerous, in order that further data ought to assist get the settings bang-on.
I’ve additionally purchased a second-hand JCB TM320 on 2,500 hours.
It’s coming from a buyer who could be very explicit about upkeep, so it’s in first rate situation, and can change an previous Claas Scorpion for transferring bales and feeding the bed-and-breakfast cattle over the winter.
For the clamp, and for loading the muckspreaders, we’ve two JCB 419Ss. Watching them work is like poetry in movement and there’s no likelihood of a single 435 maintaining.
Current main repairs/breakdowns?
The chopper ended up in a ditch final 12 months and, when the £16,000 invoice for a load of recent panels got here by way of, I assumed I’d by accident ordered a brand new machine.
Subsequent 12 months, we’re going to knock up a curler and wrap service to go on the entrance of the baler tractor.
Apart from that, it’ll simply be hedgecutting and slurry spreading.
Regardless of what the “specialists” say, I’m satisfied that grass crops given a dose of slurry between November and January take the vitamins in and inexperienced up far faster.
I additionally query the benefit of nitrate susceptible zones. Absolutely having the ability to apply little and sometimes reduces the danger of run-off in contrast with dashing to use a giant dose once you’re allowed to – then risking it going right into a ditch when we’ve a spell of rain.
Present contractor frustrations?
I’ve determined to rewrite a e-book of memoirs, which I’ve titled Have you learnt it’s to rain tomorrow?.
The climate is my greatest gripe in life and, like Graham Hayllar in final month’s Contractor Remark, I’ve discovered that smartphone apps have made it 10 instances worse.
Prospects simply flick by way of all of the apps they’ve till they discover a forecast that fits them.
The times of basing every week’s work on the Countryfile climate forecast are lengthy gone.
The second chapter of the e-book known as “I don’t know what occurred – it was like that once I received it”, adopted by “I canna make it tomorrow – I’m going to the Highland Present”.
And my different gripe is with farmers doing their very own tedding.
They need to be licensed and have to sit down a take a look at yearly to ensure they’re competent, as a result of most of them race by way of it at 100mph and depart us a tangled mess to select up.
Life as a contractor isn’t with out its stresses.