Farmers Weekly Awards 2021: Contractor of the Year

Mill ‘n’ Mix, Dochcarty Road, Dingwall, Ross-shire

The longevity of the Fraser family’s business is a testament to the reputation Robert and John have built among their customers across the north of Scotland.

Having started out in 1982, Mill ’n’ Mix now employs a team of seven and, as a relatively small outfit competing against large corporate feed companies, John’s priority is to build and maintain close relationships with his customers. That means delivering as promised, when promised.

The 10,000t/year animal feed production operation centres around two mobile Feedwagons with bespoke weighing systems that were designed and manufactured in-house in 2010.

These have helped to double capacity, increase profits and reduce the business’ carbon footprint.

However, Mill ’n’ Mix isn’t a standard milling contractor, as it also runs a forage harvesting team covering more than 2,000ha/year and has a large agricultural engineering workshop.

Farm facts

  • Services offered: Bruising, milling, mixing, forage harvesting, muckspreading, ag engineering, general farm contracting
  • Main customer base: Livestock and dairy farms
  • Area covered: 429 customers across a 60-mile radius from Dingwall, Ross-shire
  • Machinery fleet highlights: Claas Jaguar 970 forager, 2x JCB 436 loading shovels, Fastrac 8310, 2x mobile feed mills

This versatility, adaptability and willingness to take on new opportunities has helped establish a year-round workload that keeps staff and machinery busy.

Christmas tree harvesting occupies tractors and trailers from mid-October to mid-December, before the focus shifts to carting farmyard manure through to April – by which point the team starts to think about the silage season.

See also: What’s in Your Shed? visits Contractor of the Year Tim Russon

Machinery

The firm’s flagship machines are the two mobile feed mills, which were manufactured in its own engineering department.

One is mounted on a MAN TGS 360 truck and the other on a purpose-built trailer chassis pulled by a Fastrac 8310. They travel up to 60 miles from the their base in Dingwall.

John keeps a keen eye on business costs – in particular, machinery, diesel and insurance – and sets prices based on local and national averages, his past experience and information from completed job sheet data.

The same applies to equipment choices, with fuel economy, running costs and performance key factors to consider in selecting the most suitable machine for the job.

In the case of the foraging team, that’s a Claas Jaguar 970 complete with telematics, yield mapping and dry matter sensors, providing John and his customers with key insights into the performance of both crops and machines.

Also among the fleet are two JCB 435 loading shovels and Claas and JCB tractors.

And because there is a big workshop at the yard, all servicing and repairs can be carried out by in-house mechanics, slashing labour costs on big jobs and meaning that warranty is a bonus rather than a deal-breaker in any new equipment negotiations.

There’s no set replacement policy, with John instead preferring to monitor reliability and residual values, which tend to be kept relatively high thanks to meticulous maintenance regimes.

Staff and customers

Customers are at the heart of the Mill ’n’ Mix business, and John values his strong relationships with them – some of whom have been on the books for 35 years.

He visits them in person to tailor services and payment plans to their needs, and listens to their opinions in an effort to be as genuine and approachable as possible.

The firm’s seven full-time staff are also highly valued and encouraged to complete courses and qualifications. They are given employment policies and hired-in contractors are issued safety letters to make them aware of any risks.

Winning ways

  • Sustainable business growth
  • Prioritises strong customer relationships over rapid expansion
  • Mix of services dovetail to get the most from staff and machinery year-round
  • Good workshop helps keep on top of machinery servicing and maintenance costs
  • Open-minded approach to new opportunities

A word from our independent judge

“The Frasers run no ordinary milling operation. Their willingness to adapt to new opportunities means they now have many strings to their bow, including foraging, Christmas tree harvesting and agricultural engineering. This variety helps spread risk, cut costs and put the business on a stable footing for future expansion.”
Jill Hewitt, NAAC chief executive

Our other finalists were

  • A&R Fraser Contracting, Braeside Farm, Shaftesbury, Dorset
  • HC Beales Agricultural Contracting, Crown Farm, Stalland Common, Great Ellingham, Norfolk

Read about the finalists

The Farmers Weekly 2021 Contractor of the Year is sponsored by MeritAgCheck

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Farmers Weekly’s farming awards celebrates the very best of British agriculture by recognising hard-working and innovative farmers across the UK.

Find out more about the Awards, the categories and sponsorship opportunities on our Awards website.