Farmers Weekly Awards 2023: Contractor of the Year

AJ Heywood & Sons of Springfield Meadow, Cornwall, is Farmers Weekly Contactor of the Year.

Brave investments in the latest forage harvesting and slurry spreading technology have given Kevin Heywood’s customers greater insights into their businesses than ever before.

His maxim “we measure it, so customers can manage it” reflects this approach of providing detailed data to inform future cropping decisions.

See also: Farmers Weekly Awards 2023: Contractor of the Year finalists

Business facts

  • Primary services Mowing, raking, baling, forage harvesting, slurry and muckspreading, cultivations and drilling
  • Main customer base Dairy farms
  • Area covered Up to a 15-mile radius from Bude base, across north Cornwall and west Devon
  • Customers 50
  • Years in business 44
  • Full-time staff 12

In 2010, four years after taking the reins from his father, Kevin broke new ground in the South West by becoming the first to invest in John Deere’s Harvest Lab system.

This allowed customers to view silage dry matter, sugar levels, protein and yield in a new way.

AJ Heywood & Sons now runs a pair of Harvest Lab-equipped Deere foragers alongside two ejector trailers with weigh cells.

This means the yield monitors can be regularly calibrated to ensure readings are accurate.

Six years ago, the business branched into the competitive slurry sector.

As with grass harvesting, the addition of technology helps the Heywood offering stand out from the rest, with tankers and umbilical applicators featuring sensors to monitor nutrients.

This allows farms to exploit a cheap but valuable commodity, ensuring applications are accurately targeted to produce strong silage yields.


Most machinery is purchased new, but to manage rising prices, the business has opted against long-term breakdown cover in favour of the standard 12-month warranties.

The inherent risk in this approach is softened by the employment of a full-time mechanic, who is able to complete all servicing and most repairs in-house with support from a recently acquired engineering division.

This also allows some parts to be machined on-site, reducing downtime in the process.

Aside from regular maintenance, the workshop has been put to good use developing a home-built, trommel-style mobile slurry separator.

Rather than a screw press, which would quickly wear given most customers bed on sand, the design was based on the workings of a washing machine.

Different size meshes can be fitted to remove the solid element of the slurry, reducing the volume by 30%.

In doing so, it can potentially save dairy farmers that are short of storage capacity from building new lagoons.

 The nitrogen-rich dirty water can then be used to fertilise and irrigate fields, with the solids spread in the spring or autumn.

Staff and customers

The business employs 20 full-time staff across the agricultural contracting and farm-based groundworks divisions, and another 10 during seasonal peaks.

Inevitably, the growing workload has forced Kevin off the forager seat and into the office, but he still finds time for the occasional stint to catch up with customers and map out future plans.

These discussions are based on the data provided by the forage and slurry sensors.

To do so, he helps customers sign up to John Deere’s Operations Center, allowing them to view the information as soon as the forager leaves the field and compare it with previous years to assess annual performance.

A word from our independent judge

“Innovation and technology have been key to the growth of AJ Heywood & Sons. The ability to provide customers with detailed data on harvesting and spreading operations ensures the business plays a central role in farm decisions.”

Jill Hewitt, NAAC chief executive 

Winning ways

  • Adds value to traditional services through the addition of technology, particularly in improving slurry spreading accuracy
  • Provides customers with insights that guide crop management decisions
  • Innovative slurry separator will reduce storage burden for customers
  • Engineering division has cut repair and maintenance costs
  • Year-round workload keeps staff busy and business profitable

The Farmers Weekly 2023 Contractor of the Year Award is sponsored by Rural Asset Finance

Rural Asset Finance logoThe Farmers Weekly’s Awards celebrate 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.

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