Farmers Weekly Contractor of the Year 2014: Peter Butler

Peter Butler,
Green Farm, Yoxford, Suffolk

At the age of 65, Peter Butler is running a buzzing and successful contracting business that would keep a man half his age on his toes.

For the past 30 years, he has been at the sharp end of sugar beet production and he has never lost his appetite for innovating and honing his trade.

That means working with manufacturers to improve machines, investing in the latest technology and cleverly financing equipment to keep costs down.

“Peter’s passion and infectious enthusiasm for the sugar beet crop is second to none. He has developed a complete service to growers in the eastern counties based on a lifetime’s experience of growing and harvesting the crop.”
Philip Wynn, director, Wynn Business Partnerships, and independent judge

He puts the hours in, too. During the last campaign he lifted more than 1,200ha of beet singlehandedly and he is set to do the same again this year.

On top of this he offers a full range of sugar beet contracting services, farms another 180ha of mainly tenanted land and clocks up countless hours touring the eastern counties with his tractor and weed wiper.

He also harvests 800ha of cereals a year with his John Deere S690i combine.

It all sounds a bit too much to manage, but Peter says the system slots together nicely.

“It keeps me busy all year round, but there aren’t too many overlaps,” he says.

Business Facts

  • 1,200ha sugar beet harvesting
  • Offers most additional sugar beet contracting services
  • Farms 180ha of mainly tenanted land growing feed wheat, barley, oilseed rape and sugar beet

Winning Ways

  • Amazing knowledge of the sugar beet crop with the appetite to learn more and keep improving
  • Successfully managing a huge workload and slotting jobs together neatly to avoid clashes
  • At 65 years old he still has the appetite to grow and improve the business

“When I need to go combining, the beet’s not being too demanding and when it comes to lifting, the arable work is usually finished for the year.”

This workload means he is far too busy to have machines parked up with breakdowns. To reduce the likelihood of mechanical misdemeanours, front-line equipment is changed regularly and usually includes some sort of maintenance package with the manufacturer or dealer.

For example, his state-of-the-art Agrifac Big Six beet harvester is changed every two years to avoid footing the bill for a pricey overhaul. It also means he is running a fast and up-to-date machine.

Because he knows the harvesters and the job inside out, Agrifac also drafts him in to help with new developments and refinements.

That means he takes regular trips to the company’s headquarters in the Netherlands to test and refine new machines before they go on sale.

He is into the latest technology, too, running GPS guidance and computer-controlling variable-rate seeders.

Due to his years in the game and his reputation for getting the job done whatever the conditions, Peter is in the enviable position of not having to tout for work.

“Everything is through word of mouth and I’ve got about 40 loyal customers that have been with me for years,” he says.

“I’ve got a personal relationship with all of them and they’re not just numbers.”

Peter also prides himself on the fact he always turns up when he says he will and he never fails to get the job done.

“You’ll often see me running the beet harvester from dawn until dusk – as I always say, if you want to get a job done, ask a busy person.”


Olly NeilOlly Neil
Green Farm, Bury St Edmund’s, Suffolk

Olly started out in contracting from scratch and after just 10 years has built up a diverse and successful business. He has capitalised on opportunities that have come his way and has diversified to keep staff busy all year round.

Robert BooleRobert Boole
Thickthorn Farm, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Robert and his father Tony have cleverly developed their contract spraying enterprise into a full crop management service, offering everything from agronomy to chemical supply and application, and excellent customer service.

Sponsor’s message

JCB“Acknowledging the efforts to create a successful contracting business is extremely important to JCB. We understand the challenges they face and believe this year’s winner is more than worthy of the title.”
Richard Foxley
, marketing manager