Contractor of the Year Finalist – Duncan Maughan

Trying to change the mindset of farmers is never going to be the easiest job in the world, but it’s a challenge that Duncan Maughan has taken on head-first.

It is 17 years since he left school and decided to set up a contracting outfit using a self-converted trailed forage harvester. In that time the business, based on the family dairy farm, has expanded to cover 38 main clients over a 30-mile radius, with an annual turnover of £350,000-400,000. “We only advertised once,” Duncan says confidently. “Word of mouth is the best thing you can ever have.”

That growth is no mean feat given that there are 20-30 other contractors in the area. “Some work for £10/acre for a forager – we just can’t do it for that sort of price.”

Instead, Duncan prides himself on offering a quality service, but acknowledges it can be an uphill struggle convincing farmers not to just go for the cheapest option. “We try to convince people of the importance of good-quality silage but, at the end of the day, we have to set our price and if people don’t like it, the kit stays in the shed.”

But, by taking pride in his work and the appearance of all machines, Duncan believes this is the right approach. It is perhaps why he supports the introduction of an assured contractors’ scheme. “It’s definitely a good idea and I think the dairy companies will be the first to pick up on it. If you’re going to be in the job, you’ve got to do it properly – whether in relation to health and safety, haulage or red diesel.”

Duncan is always looking to develop new ideas and was one of the first in the area to use self-propelled foragers and triple mowers. Latterly he has bought a new Joskin 11000ME tanker for injecting slurry. “Injecting creates less smell than splash plates and means there’s no leaf taint. It’s a much cleaner job all round and frees up a man, compared with the umbilical system.

“But at £50/hour, it is often a difficult job trying to convince farmers it’s a better option, particularly when they’re used to splash plates and umbilical systems, which can do more in an hour.” To get around this, he often goes to farms to demonstrate the machine and answer questions potential customers have.

Good, flexible staff are an essential part of the business, Duncan says. Alongside Duncan and his father, two other full-time and up to seven part-time staff are employed, many of whom are from local family farms. “If you have a lot of full-time staff, you have to make sure you keep them busy all year round. Most of our part-time staff go back to work on their own farms when they’re not with us, so it works quite well. We also do a lot of their silaging anyway, and can share headers for the foragers.”

Most repair work is done in-house and Duncan says that proper maintenance throughout the season helps avoid costly breakdowns and extends the life of machines. “Generally we’ll buy the two main tractors new and they often don’t get changed until 7000-7500 hours. The forager has realistically got to do four years to pay for itself.”

This year he has added a second-hand Claas Lexion 430 combine to his machinery fleet. “We were approached by one customer about doing his combining for animal feed, but the area wasn’t large enough to make it pay, so we asked everyone we do drilling for and managed to get the combinable area up to 260ha (650 acres), which made it worth doing.”

Duncan Maughan is focused on providing his customers with a quality service.

What the judges liked

  • Confidence in own ability to do a good job

  • Family-run business employing local staff

  • Good understanding of costs and environmental issues – eg use of flotation tyres on trailers, move to slurry injection

  • Keen to explore new options

  • Involvement with local community – pumped-out flooded village, aerated football pitch and took tractor to toddler group in Penrith

  • Strong technical awareness

Farm facts

  • Work undertaken: Silaging, cultivations, slurry spreading & injection, plus hedging

  • Machinery fleet: Tractors – 3x Valtra tractors, 2x Case CVX (195 & 170). Other – Claas Jaguar 850 forage harvester, Redrock TH500 loader, Claas Lexion 430 combine

  • Labour: Duncan, his father, two other full-time and up to seven part-time staff

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