FW Awards 2011: Contractor of the Year finalists – Steven and Sarah Suggitt

Steven and Sarah Suggitt

Suggitt Farm Services, Roudham, Norfolk

Sitting in the Suggitt’s kitchen, you realise what determination it takes to start and build a contracting business; and how many knocks it takes before it’s a success.

Steven Suggitt knew his future would be in farming from an early age. His father had been a farm worker, and Steven was desperate to get any experience he could, so he went to every farm within cycling distance. After going to Easton College and gaining an NVQ in Pig Husbandry, he had a couple of farm jobs, and then went to work on a large-scale 6,000-head cattle enterprise.

After a couple of years, the owner asked him to set up a composting and muck handling business and Steven bought two muck spreaders and two trailers on a three-year finance package.

With the help of wife Sarah, the couple scoured the Yellow Pages, handed out business cards and visited farmers to grow this side of the business, until it was a viable business in itself.

In 2006, the pair took on a baling round from a local contractor who was scaling back, and grew this business to handle 30,000 mini-hestons and 6,500 big bales in that year alone. With this, more muck work came in and the business has grown subsequently.

The pair’s unwillingness to say no has meant that at some points they’ve had to hire tractors and trailers, but they’ve steadily grown with this and now employ six full-time employees and up to 10 self-employed during busy spells.

Having explored business ideas like fattening pigs (which took them close to bankruptcy due to poor pork prices and escalating feed costs), the pair clearly are not averse to trying different things. And when the same contractor from whom they bought the baling round decided to start to ease himself out of foraging, Steven and Sarah decided to take on a 4,000 acre foraging enterprise, first by investing in mowers and then by taking on the round completely in 2009. They now cover from Ipswich to Southwold and up to Norwich, a 50-mile radius in total.

But, ten dairy farms have pulled out of the industry in recent years and the couple knew they had to look for something else to help the business remain viable.

Although muck spreading remains central, the other sides of the business all very much play their part, explains Steven. Budgets are carefully managed with the help of Brown and Co advisors and invoicing is done weekly, with reminders sent out each month.

This year, the Suggitts purchased a spreading company based near Fakenham with over 350 customers. “This is a big step for us, but it’s already a British Sugar and Pains Fertiliser approved business, so we have a certain amount of guaranteed income.”

One extra member of staff will be taken on for this, as well as the staff currently employed by the previous owners.

Another project in the offing is a 1.5mW biogas plant, which already has approved plans. This will be done in conjunction with another company; however the couple own the land already.

Social involvement is particularly important to the couple, and this year Suggitt Farm Services held an Open Farm Sunday event that attracted over 300 visitors. Numerous school visits have also helped the local community understand the role of contractors in the countryside.

Staff involvement is also key, with regular health and safety briefings, as well as working documents for operating muckspreaders and other machinery.

The judges liked

Boundless enthusiasm

Ability to spot opportunities

Wide range of services offered

Social inclusiveness high on agenda

Business facts

30,000 small bales and 6,000 big bales

Extensive muck-spreading

2,020ha (5,000 acres) of grass and maize foraging

Fertiliser and compound spreading

2011 Farmers Weekly Awards

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