The rising cost of farm machinery and shortages of skilled labour are proving to be a growing challenge for farm contractors.
An NFU Mutual survey of 260 contractors has shown that breakdowns and bad weather are the biggest problems they face, cited by 36.3% of respondents, because of the disruption they bring to operations.
However, 28.6% said the next biggest challenge was the escalating cost of both used and new farm machinery, given that contracting margins were already tight.
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Machinery prices are being driven up by escalating steel prices and by strong export demand for used equipment.
Contractors rated difficulty employing trained workers as their third most serious concern (21.4% of respondents).
Charlie Yorke, agriculture and technology specialist at NFU Mutual, pointed out that changes in farm support were likely to give farm contractors a more significant role in the future.
“While changes in subsidies are a challenge, contracting will play an increasingly important part in the future of agriculture as farmers streamline their businesses and bring in outside skills for a range of farming tasks,” he said.
Contractors could face huge challenges in getting all their clients’ work done when Britain’s unpredictable weather made field work impossible.
However, it was clear that the cost and availability of machinery was also a growing issue for the industry.
“With demand high and availability low, we recommend that contractors establish accurate values for their machinery and make sure they are fully covered should the worst happen,” Mr Yorke said.
A separate NFU Mutual survey of the factors farmers rated highest when selecting a contractor revealed that trust and relationships were top of the list, with value for money coming in fourth place.
The results point to farmers putting a higher priority on knowing the job is being done safely, and being able to access specialist expertise, than on price.