FW Awards 2009: Contractor of the Year finalists – Pete and Richard Burbage

You’ll struggle to find a more hungry and ambitious contracting outfit than the one run by Pete and Richard Burbage.

Near Northampton, the two brothers’ enthusiasm for their business is infectious, as is their determination to get a job done and get it done well.

“Customer focus is our number one priority – we want to do the best job we can for our customers to make sure they continue as successful operations and stay loyal to us,” says Richard.

“Us being there when we say we will be can make the difference between a good clamp of silage and a bad one, so it’s critical we communicate. If we’ve had a breakdown or something’s gone wrong we’ll always phone ahead to let the customer know; honesty is always the best policy in these situations. We trade on our reputation.”

To remain reliable and keep these promises, the Burbages have to invest heavily in their machinery. But they don’t just splash out on new kit when they feel like it – everything is carefully costed out.

Since he started out in 1990, buck-raking, hedge-trimming and muckspreading with a 90hp Same Laser, Pete has always made it top priority to thoroughly analyse his costs.

“We know exactly what each machine is costing us down to the smallest detail. We won’t go out there and do a job unless we know we’re covering our costs and, more importantly, making a decent margin,” says Pete. That way they’ve got money to reinvest in the business to make it sustainable for the future, which has seen the brothers invest in a farm of their own with buildings to house machinery and relocate their yard.

In a similar vein, the brothers are keen to investigate and trial new technology if it promises to bring benefits to their operation or their customers’ businesses.

Over recent years a number of stepless CVT tractors have joined the line-up on the basis that they have the potential to reduce fuel usage. Although more costly than standard machines, they have proven themselves to be more efficient for a number of tasks.

GPS auto-steering is used for a number of high accuracy jobs, including maize-drilling. This has helped speed the operation up and ease the burden on the operator, especially at night. In addition, it means farmers know their valuable seed is being used to its full potential without overlaps and misses.

“It’s all about doing the best thing for the customer and, unfortunately, sometimes that comes to our cost,” says Pete.

Attracting and retaining good staff is an area that the brothers are increasingly concentrating their efforts on. Always keen to take on people that are prepared to share their enthusiasm for the work, both Pete and Richard put time aside to train up less experienced operators even if they might only be there for one season.

“Everyone needs a leg-up,” says Richard. “We try to employ keen young guys that are happy to work the long hours that contracting inevitably requires. But we are very conscious that it is hard work and when there is an opportunity to take a break, we let the guys take it.”

When asked what they believe the future holds, for the Burbages it’s all about sustainability – for the industry as a whole. Like most contractors, they aim to offer the best possible service but it is important that farmers understand they shouldn’t be working for nothing.

“No enterprise should just break-even, there needs to be a profit in every job and if there isn’t, we shouldn’t be doing it. If our customers are prepared to accept that, then we’ll flog our guts out to make sure we do the best possible job,” says Pete.

Farm facts:

  • Work undertaken: 2000ha (5000 acres) grass and maize silage, baling, bale-wrapping, slurry spreading, muck spreading, maize drilling Machinery fleet: Tractors – 110hp JD 6420, two 150hp 6920-S, 150hp 6930, three 175hp 7530 and 150hp Fendt 716, Claas Jaguar 950, JCB Farm Master 414-S, JCB 530-70 and JCB 536-70, two Claas Quadrant 2200, Quadrant 3200 and NH BB 9080 plus Welger RP435 and NH BR740 round balers
  • Labour: Pete and Richard, four full-time plus up to 10 in silaging.

What the judges liked:

  • Unbounded enthusiasm and energy for a job well done
  • Developinga market for niche products like haylage
  • Effectively diversified with home farm, not dependent on rented yard
  • Modern, well-maintained kit
  • Emphasis on staff retention through training and motivation


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  • Risk management strategies for a more predictable financial performance
  • Educated conversations when collaborating with your advisors
  • Negotiate better prices with your grain merchants

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