There are far fewer farmworkers on British farms than there used to be and those that remain are often the linchpin of the business. Long hours, an ability to turn their hand to any job and tremendous dedication are what make our three Farmworker of the Year finalists true unsung heroes. David Cousins reports on the work of one, Ian Stubbs
If there are two things that characterise an ideal working relationship between a farmer and a long-serving farmworker, it’s trust and continuity. And when it comes to the partnership between Lincolnshire farmer Andrew Ward and his worker Ian Stubbs, both of those qualities are impressively evident.
Ian came to work for Andrew at Glebe Farm near Leadenham 12 years ago. But, before that, Ian’s father worked for Andrew’s father too. So it’s a long-running association between the two families.
In that time the all-arable farm has expanded and changed. The farm itself runs to 720ha, but there’s now a lot of one-off contracting work to add to the workload too.
There are just three staff on the farm – Andrew, Ian and Eoin Gallagher. Cropping is mainly wheat, spring barley, oilseed rape and sugar beet and the fieldwork is kept pretty simple.
Ian drives the three-year-old Case IH Quadtrac 535, pulling a 4.5m-wide Simba Solo for primary cultivation and Simba Cultipress for secondary tillage. He also does the drilling, fertiliser spreading, and sugar beet cultivations, as well as doing some spraying.
- 720ha, wheat, barley, OSR and sugar beet
- Simple cultivations system based around a Simba Solo and Cultipress
- Careful collating of workrate and fuel use figures since 2004
That’s a lot of land to get over every year for any farmworker. However Ian has an unusual extra role in the tractor cab too, and that’s to calculate fuel use and workrate figures very precisely.
This is a project that the farm has been running since 2004 and involves clocking in and out of every field, measuring the hectares covered, fuel used and hours elapsed. Andrew then puts it all on a spreadsheet. By adding these to the costs of inputs such as seed, fertiliser and sprays, it means that the farm knows exactly what every crop has cost to produce.
Those figures are an essential part of the commercial arable consultancy service that Andrew Ward offers and Ian relishes the task of finding the most fuel-efficient way of driving the tractor. There can’t be many other tractor drivers in the land who have so much experience in running their machines for economy rather than just throughput. Andrew’s other work (he is a brand ambassador for Simba, does knowledge transfer work for Monsanto, Bayer, BASF and Agrii and is chairman of the oilseed rape Recommended List committee) means he is away from the farm 30% of the time and often abroad. So Ian is particularly key in ensuring the smooth running of the farm.
The judges likes
- A perfectionist in all he does, whether it’s machinery settings, kit maintenance or finding new ways to make the job better or easier
- Huge range of technical capabilities and bags of enthusiasm
- Unfazed by the fact that the farmer is away from the farm 30% of the time
“I do give Ian a lot of responsibility and he relishes that,” says Andrew.
“We work well together – we’re more like friends than colleagues. It would be very difficult to find someone with Ian’s range of capabilities too.”
Ian’s perfectionism doesn’t just extend to the care with which he does the fieldwork. He can turn his hand to most things in the workshop and has just finished welding together a new home-built 6m wide, 13-leg rape drill that promises to speed up the operation sharply.
He’s always finding new (and better) ways of doing things, says Andrew, a skill that makes life on the farm more pleasant as well as more productive. He’s also one of those great assets on any farm – a worker who doesn’t just leave machines on one setting all day but constantly tries new things to improve throughput, do a better job or save time.
He’s also a stickler for tidiness both in the workshop and tractor cab and has even been known to shampoo the tractor carpets.
“I suppose I am a bit of a perfectionist,” says Ian. “I always like to do the best I possibly can.”
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Find out more about the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards including details on how to book tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash