Sitting on the window ledge in Harry Wilson’s office is a tin can with the year 1953 etched into the side. A simple object, but one that defines what Harry Wilson is all about – vision. “This tin can represents what I thought was going to be the future, being able to conserve grass in a round chamber.”
“My wife Lynn’s uncle died on a tractor at 34, and it gave me the ambition to be a contractor, just like him.”
In 1970 he married Lynn and had the opportunity to take on a 30-acre farm, from which he started his own contracting business. “For a few years it was touch and go,” he explains, Lynn nodding in agreement. In the early 70s there was a spate of bad weather in the North West and Mr Wilson’s decision to purchase three NH 717 trailed foragers seemed a good one. “Each forager was worn out by the end of July each year and we had to keep getting new ones as the demand was so high.”
In 1975, he bought his first forager harvester and by 1978 he had started hiring out machines he didn’t have the work for to other farmers and contractors. It was in 1982 that Mr Wilson’s relationship with Claas started and he bought his first 690. Over the years, he’s had a staggering 140 foragers, a large proportion which have been hired around the UK and into Ireland. Currently, there’s a fleet of 30 foragers of which three are used for the contracting business and the rest are constantly being hired out.
Developing harvesting techniques for hemp and miscanthus has become increasingly important to Harry and sons Keith and Ian, who are both involved in the business, and the development of a separate business selling rhizomes has also been developed from this.
All machinery is maintained in line with Mr Wilson’s strict in-house servicing schedule at workshops any dealer would be envious of. In fact, Claas has been known to call Mr Wilson up to get parts to customers rather than waiting for it to come from Germany. It’s this commitment to his customers that has allowed the business to grow. “We can’t afford to have customers waiting for us to get parts to get their forage in the clamp.”
Mr Wilson is adamant that every farmer should be planning for the long-term future, not just the next couple of years. “Farming isn’t for today; it’s for the next generation. We have to leave a legacy for the next generation – that’s where our priorities must lie.” This is even to the point that he has walked away from jobs if he doesn’t believe them to be viable for the future.
The business uses this vision to give advice on planning to his dairy farming customers. “We have a workforce that is able to turn their hand to anything, and being able to offer services like this in the winter months allows us to fill the gap.”
When it comes to the environment, even the little things can make a big difference, he believes. All operators are encouraged to switch off engines instead of leaving them idling, and tractors are chosen for their fuel efficiency as well as performance.
And as for health and safety, being compliant is simply not enough for Mr Wilson. “We want to develop a model for demonstrating good practice.” This model he wants rolled out to provide a level of sufficiency in the agricultural workforce nationwide.
In a conference centre built to provide a venue for training and social events for employees and customers, the Wilson’s hold customer health and safety focus meetings, allowing farmer’s access to experts and also enabling them to map out risk assessments as well as demonstrating the viability of investing in new technology such as field mapping.
And it’s not just customer’s welfare that gets looked after. All staff get Sundays off at Wilson’s. A bold move for any contracting business, but one that has mean many of the staff he has employed over the years have remained with him. “You can’t expect men to work the hours demanded in contracting without some time off to spend with their families.”
WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED
• Always looking for new technology to benefit customers
• Emphasis on reliable, up-to-date kit for customers
• Strong on employee welfare
• Keen to impart the importance of health and safety to customers and employees
• Forage harvesting
• Range of contracting services
• Forager hire
• Specialist repair work
• Energy crop harvesting
• Health and safety awareness courses