WE headed to Aberdeenshire recently to interview former world ploughing champion and 10-time Scottish ploughing champion, David Carnegie, who runs one of the biggest contracting businesses in the North-east with his brother, Brian and his son, Derek as part of a new series on Scotland’s contractors. 
Based at the southern end of the county at Steelstrath, Laurencekirk, the Carnegies own and farm 2500 acres of arable ground and own a further 2000 acres of hill and woodland. They grow a large proportion of spring barley, alongside wheat, oilseed rape and potatoes. 
As well as their contracting business and farming enterprise, they also run a haulage business which includes 14 lorries, mainly transporting grain, tatties and lime across Scotland and further afield. The family also own and run Carnegie Crop Services based at Brechin, and Clarence Murray Potato Growers, at Laurencekirk, growing more than 400 acres of tatties for seed and a small proportion for ware. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Some of the workmen who were making adjustments to the tattie harvester before their Christmas break, from left, Grant Arbuckle, George Grant and Scott Alexander

How long have you been contracting for?
My father started contracting in 1939, initially with threshing mills and ploughs. We always had a lorry on the farm, even back in the 1940s. He was forward thinking but to be a contractor you had to be in there first as it soon became a competitive job. 
Our first combine was a Massey Harris 21 which came all the way from Canada on a boat and in a box. It was built down in the south of England where it did a season of combining before being transported north to Scotland. 
Since then, the business has grown massively, employing nearly 50 staff between the contracting, haulage, crop services and Clarence Murray.

Has New Holland always been a favourite at Steelstrath?
New Hollands have been here since the very start and although our latest tractor to the fleet is a Claas, we are still very loyal to New Holland, or Ford as they once were. 
We always had a go at trying various other tractors but found the newer models in other tractors always changed. Once you’ve driven a New Holland, you get used to it and its format, which makes it easer when you’ve to jump onto any of the models. 

Where do you source your New Hollands and Claas?
We are lucky in that we have two dealerships nearby. Agricar, at Laurencekirk, for the New Holland and Sellars, at Letham, for the Claas machines. 
We also used Netherton Tractors to source our two John Deeres which we use for our sprayers and AM Phillip for JCB loaders. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Matthew Dalgerty gives this New Holland a well-deserved wash

Oldest and newest machines within the fleet?
Our oldest machine is a Hanomag loader which is 41 years old and has caused very few problems for us. It’s still used to this day for loading lime into lorries. 
We recently purchased a Claas Axion 850 tractor which will be used for ploughing and next month we have another Claas 870 tractor and a six-metre Lemken drill coming. We’ve always used four-metre drills, so we’re looking forward to using the bigger model and to hopefully getting the workload completed that bit quicker. 
Best and least favourite tractor you’ve had?
The best tractor we ever had has to be a MB-Trac 1000 tractor, which is now semi-retired although still has a sprayer fitted to it. It’s done around 18,000 hours and the engine has never been touched once. I think this could be down to it having just one driver for the majority of its life!
The least favourite tractor, I would say, would be a TM150. It caused so many problems and always needed fixed. 

The Scottish Farmer:

New to the fleet is this Claas 850 Axion with the older Claas Axion 820 behind 

How long do you keep your machines for?
Tractors usually stay with us about 8000-10,000 hours, while others pieces of kit are kept for approx 10 years. 
The combines used to be changed every seven years, but they’re now kept nearer 10 years due to replacement costs. We find that because the big drop in depreciation in the combines is in the first few years, the longer they are worked, the better off you are at the end of the day. 
The combines aren’t worked as hard as they were 20 years ago, as we are only cutting around 1000 acres per machine nowadays. 

What’s the main bulk of work which you carry out and where?
We contract within a 25-mile radius and tend to do work further south into the Dundee and Forfar areas. Farms are much bigger now, so farmers have the machinery to do the jobs themselves, which means we don’t have near as many contracting customers as we did. 
Lime spreading is something which we do at least 10 months of the year and we can be crop spraying nine months of the year. We also do GPS soil sampling too.

The Scottish Farmer:

The Liebherr loading shovel which is mainly used for loading lime

What keeps you busy during the quiet spells?
Throughout December and January we are quiet, so we have time to fix and service machines as needed. 
Drainage work is usually done in these months for ourselves and for customers. A lot of our drains are older now and they need to be maintained due to using bigger machines on the fields. 
To do so, we use a trencher machine which is laser controlled on the tractor. 

Do you have a favourite job?
I’m certainly doing a lot more work with tractors than I did 10 years, but I can’t really say I have a favourite, all the jobs must be done. 
One job I don’t mind, though, is using our Vaderstad rollers, with a bio drill for sowing grass and small seeds. 

Is there a tool/machine in the workshop that you couldn’t work without?
The skylift ramp, a heavy-duty platform which can lift up to 25 tonnes. We use it for lorries and trailers and it makes the job so much easier when it comes to fixing something. 

The Scottish Farmer:

The workshop at Steelstrath

Are there any bargains in the garage?
We recently purchased a second-hand 500hp wood chopper, mounted on a lorry but I’m not giving away the price. I’m not sure if it’s a bargain or not yet, but time will tell...

How would you describe 2017’s harvest?
It was horrendous. A lot of people say 1985 was worse, but 2017 is the worst one I can remember.
You couldn’t even get a start at last year’s harvest and keep productive, everything was so wet from the start and it stayed like that. In 1985, however, it was wet early on and despite wheat going flat, you eventually could combine it and it was still worthwhile doing so. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Just some of the good-sized and modern sheds at Steelstrath

What has changed most since you began contracting?
The biggest change is the size in machinery now – everything is just getting bigger and bigger and more advanced. 
When I was at school, it was the old grey Fergusons with Perkins engines which were at home and then, when I left school, my first tractor was a Ford Dexta, only 32hp! And, when I think back to 1963, we had New Holland Claeys 103 combines with no cab and the tank was much higher – it was a very dusty job!
Working conditions on farms now are much better than they were. You used to have to sit on a tractor with big coats on and try and keep warm in all weathers, but now at just the click of a switch you can be warm. 
In more recent years, there is not the same amount of livestock in this area as there once was, so we don’t have the same amount of dung in the winter to spread. 

The Scottish Farmer:

The Carnegies’ most expensive piece of kit, the self-propelled tattie harvester

The inventory:

Tractors – 15 New Hollands, 5 Claas, 2 John Deeres. Seven of those New Hollands are T7235s, while four are NH6050s. 
Loaders – 4 JCB forklifts (all 541-70)
Combines – 3 Claas (570, 750, 760) and 1 New Holland CR9080 (all 30ft header rotaries)
Forager – 2 Claas (Claas 870 and Claas 940) 
Sprayer – 7 Multi-drive sprayers, 2 Clayton sprayers and 2 sprayers on JD tractors (6830 models). 
Cultivation – 2 Lemken ploughs (7 furrow and 5 furrow), 4 Lemken one pass drills, 2 Cambridge rollers (6m and 12m), Lemken and KV cultivators. 
Other kit – 3 Multi-drive lime spreaders and one pulled via tractor; 2 Hesston baler; 1 NH 1290; Claas Quadrant square baler; Welger round baler; seed dresser and grain drier; self-propelled tattie harvester, a Grimme Varitron 220; 6 grain trailers and 7 flat trailers for tatties; Clark and Sutherland mobile seed dresser; and 2 static Cimbria driers.