P&J Awdry and Son, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
• Created a financially sustainable business
• An exemplar of best practice
• Involved staff in key business and machinery replacement decisions
• Give any contractor the choice between a desk and a tractor and they’ll plump for the latter. Yet having a tight handle on costs is equally as important as doing the best job for the customer, and it’s something that sets Chris Awdry, and his team, apart.
Having grown up on a dairy farm, Chris attended Lackham College and on finishing his course in 1980, started helping a local contractor with silaging using the farms’ own trailed forager.
From there, he gradually built both the acreage covered and the services offered and in 1988, the first self-propelled forager arrived on the farm. This marked a turning point for the business, which now runs two Claas Jaguar 950s, has 250 customers and stretches from Frome across to Salisbury and Yeovil and up to Swindon.
Chris doesn’t believe in leaving the little jobs, either. “When we can fit in the odd 20ha (50 acres) of baling here and there we will – those customers are just as important as the larger businesses,” he says. Testament to the quality of the job that the team does, the business has never lost a customer to another contractor.
This is a close-knit team. The whole workforce was shaken by the death of a colleague due to skin cancer last year. A memorial fund-raising event was held with the help of the entire team, and events are regularly supported by the business.
Training is very important, with each member of staff fully licensed to drive the machinery they operate. A placement student is taken on each year from nearby Lackham College, partly as a recognition of what the college has provided Chris, but more to promote the development of young people in an ever-more challenging industry.
Chris is keen not to hang up his driving gloves just yet, either. “I believe it’s still important for me to stay conversant with every machine and I like to fill in for anyone who wants to finish early.”
As well as the contracting side of the business, the Awdrys also run 300 suckler cows, giving them first-hand experience of how forage quality impacts on farmers’ bottom lines.
The Awdrys are also well versed in environmental legislation and are currently in organic entry-level and varying degrees of stewardship schemes on the contract-farmed land.
During quieter times, staff are employed on farm-building projects and digging out slurry pits for customers. Chris is keen to point out that these tasks provide the “cement between the blocks” as well as something a little different for staff to get their teeth into. Across the business, there are 11 full-time staff and during peak times there can be as many as 20, including Chris and his two sons.
The key to the machinery replacement policy is giving drivers a say in what tractor or machinery is purchased. “We operate a mixed fleet because of this, which I am entirely comfortable with,” says Chris.
In 2003, Chris saw the opportunity to expand the forage side of the business into arable, and won several farm contracts. With the help of arable manager, Martin Smart, the business has expanded to take on more contract farming, growing the acreage up to 1,200ha (3,000 acres).
• 2,800ha of first-cut silage
• 1,200ha of arable contract farming
• 1,214 of combining
• Muck spreading
Chris Awdry and his team are extremely worthy winners. With more than 30 years’ experience, Chris has displayed strong business acumen and adopted the latest technological developments to give customers the best service
Edward Roach, Product and Marketing Manager, JCB Agriculture
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards