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RELIABILITY ESSENTIALREADERS OF FW”s

Contractor Comment articles will be no stranger to the contracting business run by John Horsley.

Based near Wigton, Cumbria, Mr Horsley offers a wide range of services to his customers – clamp silage, bale silage, cultivation, drilling, spraying and combining plus slurry spreading using umbilical and tanker systems.

“We run a fleet of 10 tractors, not one over three years old. Good reliable machinery is an essential part of this business,” he says.

Mr Horsley points out how the emphasis of his business has changed since foot-and-mouth disease caused destruction of the local dairy industry.

 “We still make a fair bit of silage, but there is now more arable work than before, as customers have not taken to re-stocking,” he says.

“The job has changed; we have had to change with them.”

Having been a contractor for the thick end of 40 years, Mr Horsley likes to think he knows what his customers need and, more importantly, when they need it.

“It is essential to keep in contact with them all the year round. That way we can plan ahead and avoid those urgent phone calls.

“Being successful in this job is being able to offer a good standard of work at a reasonable price.”

Mr Horsley was nominated for the Contractor of the Year competition by customer Edwin Gate, who says: “John stands out from other contractors with his care for his customers and their needs.”

RIGHT BALANCE

THIS IS the second time Roger Dickenson has been nominated for Farm Contractor of the Year.

Based at Stannington, Morpeth, in Northumberland, his company – RO Straughan & Co – is now responsible for 3200ha (8000 acres) of stubble-to-stubble work using a fleet of combines, tractors, tillage and drilling equipment, which can only be described as large.

With a sizeable acreage of silage to also contend with, spring and summer workloads can be high both on machines and men.

“I sometimes feel we could be pushing ourselves too hard,” says Mr Dickenson. “I have now invested in a second self-propelled forage harvester to help ease the pressure on our staff.

“There is no point creating a team of tired workers just when we are to start harvest. That is the route to accidents.”

 Full-time staff employed by the company number 16, but this increases to 25 at peak times.

Providing work all the year round – and ensuring good experienced employees do not leave – in a business which is inherently seasonal is not an easy task for contractors.

Mr Dickenson recently expanded his business to include site work using a range of construction equipment. “It”s an enterprise which has created a reasonable volume of profitable work,” he says.

“The secret is getting the balance between commitment to site work and our core business of agricultural contracting.”

 Mr Dickenson was nominated by customers Peter Brewis and Richard Philipson. “Roger”s team is professional, dedicated and determined to achieve high standards of workmanship,” says Mr Philipson.

NEED TO DIVERSIFY

IT WOULD not be fair to call Tim West a frustrated farmer, but none the less he is pretty keen to see the crops he has grown perform well.

Based at Rottington, near Whitehaven, Cumbria, one of Mr West”s biggest tasks is the growing and harvesting of 260ha (650 acres) of whole-crop silage.

 “It is a crop which has really taken off around here,” says Mr West. “More so than forage maize.”

Seen as an extension of his silage operation, two self-propelled forage harvesters are employed to complete the 1800ha (4500 acres) of clamp silage made.

Other enterprises include lime spreading and slurry injection. “I have both umbilical and tanker slurry injection systems,” he says.

“My customers were a bit reticent at first when we changed from surface spreading, but they now appreciate the advantages it has to offer in terms of grazing availability. The cost is not that much different either.”

Mr West runs a fleet of five Valtra tractors and a McCormick, with one of the Valtra”s used as a reverse-drive buckrake tractor. “Better than any loader,” he says.

“I always insist on the tractors being thoroughly cleaned before they start another job. I seem to spend most Saturday mornings giving them a going over with the pressure washer.”

On the staffing front, his three full-time employees endeavour to keep all the equipment in good condition.

Like several other contractors, Mr West has felt the need to diversify to ensure staff can be retained and usefully employed during the winter.

He has had amenity-type contracts and, more recently, fencing contracts to see the winter through.

“I am quite prepared to consider a wide range of winter jobs,” he says. “I have good staff who can adapt their skills to a wide range of jobs.”

 Mr West was nominated for the farmers weekly Farm Contractor of the Year competition by Richard Mawson, of Seascale, Cumbria, who points out that Mr West embraces all the new techniques required to do jobs quickly and efficiently.