Farmers Weekly Awards 2019: Contractor of the Year

Allan, Alyson and Stuart Wilson are the 2019 Farmers Weekly Contractors of the Year.

Having run a contracting outfit for just shy of 40 years, family team Allan, Alyson and Stuart Wilson know a thing or two about the delicate balancing act of business profitability and customer satisfaction.

With just 1.6ha of their own land to worry about, the company is fully focused on providing a quality agricultural service to farms across the far north of Scotland.

The business’ notable achievements include being the first in the area to have a self-propelled forager (before latterly switching to baling/wrapping), the first to grow oilseed rape, and the first to install a biomass boiler to heat the house and workshop.

See also: Meet the 2019 Farmers Weekly Awards Contractor of the Year finalists

Allan Wilson

Allan Wilson © Angus Findlay

Allan, Alyson and Stuart Wilson

Allan WJ Wilson, Fearn, Ross-shire

Farm facts

  • Started the contracting business in 1980
  • Contracting service from Dingwall to Dornoch
  • 200 customers across north-east Scotland
  • Eight full-time staff
  • Work includes cultivations, drilling, combining, baling and wrapping, plus drainage operations
  • Customer base predominantly arable

More recently, the “firsts” have involved the adoption of new technology – led by tech-savvy son, Stuart – that gives the Wilsons’ customers access to services not previously available.

For instance, the use of variable-rate drilling and nitrogen applications has helped target inputs more effectively and the business also offers a soil-mapping facility.

Stuart continues to track down machinery that can help improve the traceability of work. Muckspreader weigh cells provide detailed application records and an intelligent baler/wrapper will be fitted with weigh cells and moisture meters to give customers a better idea of their yields.

On the arable side, there is also the potential to add soil conductivity tests in the same pass, and future environmentally focused policies could open up more work opportunities.

These potential farming challenges are being seen as great opportunities to expand, so there is a strong mix of drilling kit for specific jobs, including sowing grass margins, beetle banks, catch crops and green cover crops.

Machinery replacements
Purchasing decisions are carefully planned to make sure the business gets maximum value for money.

The company has employed Farmplan computer software since 1990, which makes it easy to cost every spare part invoice against a machine.

Closely tracking each machine’s costs helps to monitor its value to the business, and rising repair bills often prompt the team to consider the merits of looking for a replacement.

Mechanically minded operators also have their say on the decision to trade in a machine. The approach is always pragmatic, taking into account repair costs and down time, cheap deals on replacements and the team’s experience and knowledge of machinery.

On the tractor front, the six-strong fleet has been John Deere for 25 years. Like with the implements, there is no set replacement policy – the team take a more considered approach by monitoring performance, current market values and new purchase details before making a decision.

Where possible, bulk buying gives greater bargaining clout. Allan is a tough negotiator and has a keen eye for a deal – the last tractor purchase took place just before the Brexit referendum, which saved the business a lot of money. Payments tend to be cleverly structured to suit the business’ cashflow, too.

Similarly, invoices are sent out soon after a job is completed so any problems can be addressed early on. This flexibility helps make sure jobs are finished promptly and customers are happy.

Winning ways

  • Keen to trial new technology that improves efficiency and gives customers access to better machinery and services
  • Top-drawer customer service, evidenced by long-standing contracts
  • Detailed knowledge of business costs and close tracking of machinery performance to get best value from purchases and trade-ins

A word from our independent judge

“Careful costings, shrewd investments and a willingness to try out the latest machinery and technology are hallmarks of the Wilsons’ long-lasting, customer-focused contracting business.”
Jill Hewitt, NAAC technical consultant

The 2019 Contractor of the Year award is sponsored by Fendt

The other finalist was:

  • Neil Fell
    NR Fell Mobile Sheep Dipping, Brancepeth, Durham