PICK of the week for the Contractor’s Yard series is Eric Gibson and family, who run their well-known contracting business based at Craigmill, Maud, in Aberdeenshire. 
Established in 1975 by Eric, who started out doing seasonal jobs for local farmers, the business has now become a family set-up as youngest sons, Greg, who is an electrician to trade, and Scott, a joiner to trade, both work full-time for the business, alongside two other employees. Eldest son, Ian, works in the oil industry, but is roped in as the Gibson’s in-house mechanic, when available, while wife and mum, Lorna, takes care of all bookwork. 
The Gibsons carry out a stubble to stubble service, thanks to an impressive machinery fleet built on the back of John Deere, Massey Ferguson and Fendt. They also rely heavily on Lemken, McHale and Claas kit.
Across their three home units, they grow 200 acres of spring barley, 100 acres of grass and 50 acres of green manure, alongside Lorna’s flock of 60 commercial ewes and bought-in store cattle which are finished and sold through Woodhead Bros, Turriff.  

How long have you been contracting?

I began in 1975 and started out with a Leyland 384 tractor lifting neeps, mowing grass and baling in the back-end with a Hesston round baler. 
There was a big demand for spreading slurry back then, so in 1979 I bought a Massey Ferguson 590 tractor. It put in a lot of hours and long nights and did as many as 1900 hours in just six months, and almost 3800 hours in one year. It was sold with around 13-14,000 hours on the clock. 
Back then, there wasn’t the same number of farmers going out and about to do jobs as there is now. You just had several contractors in your area, so it was an easy industry to get into. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Between the four drills, the Gibson team sow 6200 acres of cereals, and 2000 acres of grass seed each year

What work do 
you carry out?

We do everything from stubble to stubble, and spring is our busiest season, as we roughly sow 5000 acres of cereals. We also sow 1200 acres of cereals in the back-end plus 2000 acres of grass seed. 
Roughly, 1000 acres of cereals is combined by us, with around 1500 to 2000 square bales made and between 5000 and 10,000 bales with the round baler. 
We chop around 2000 acres of grass and the two McHale Fusion 3 balers bale and wrap roughly 17,000 bales each year. Our first Fusion 2 baler did 12,500 bales in its first year. 
Silage takes us right through to August for the second cut and we can be back among the silage after harvest for dairy farmers who take a third cut. 
Spreading lime is an all-year-round job for us and we also spread both muck and slurry. 
Scott is also kept busy in the winter months as he works with a house builder doing drainage, construction and maintenance work with one of our own diggers.
The aim is to put everything through the workshop in the winter for maintenance, but that doesn’t always happen. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Lime spreading is an all-year-round job for the team

Where are your customers based?

We generally work in a 15-20 mile radius. but do jobs in the Gamrie and Banff areas and our GPS lime spreader has taken us to jobs as far as Alford and Nairn. 
The minute you get the first machine in the area, you get the good of it but as soon as the second or third one comes, it’s a different story.

How brand 
loyal are you?

McHale is a favourite. So far, it’s the only machine that has come home and doesn’t have a problem. They’re strong, Irish-built machines and you can’t beat the brand for its reliability. 
It’s a machine that will work all day for you and all you need to do is change the wrap. 
The service from our McHale rep, Kieran Hughes, is outstanding – if he’s over from Ireland he can be with us in no time and he even managed to get up here from Laurencekirk in an hour. 
We thought the Kverneland wrapper was good, but since we’ve got the McHale, we’ve never looked back. If you want something mechanical, buy German, and if you want a machine with a good clump of metal, buy Irish. 
All our drills are now Lemkens, bought from Sellars, at Oldmeldrum, and we just couldn’t go by them now. They’re reliable machines and they allow you to make such a tidy job. 
Our first Lemken 4m was bought in 2010 and it went away having done 13,000 acres – and it didn’t have one spanner near it. The service from both Scotland reps, Kevin Rennie and Duncan Duthie, is first class. 
Claas is our current pick for combines and choppers which also come from Sellars. Russell Clark, from Claas, has been a big help to us over the years.  
Although we now have a mixed fleet of tractors, we’ve had John Deeres since 1995 when we purchased the first, a 6600. The service from HRN mechanics is outstanding and the company has helped us massively over the years. If we’ve really needed a machine, they’ve got it for us.  

The Scottish Farmer:

Scott's favourite outfit, the Fendt 936 and Lemken 6m drill, sowing by the sea

Dealerships used? 

HRN, AM Phillip, Sellars, Allan Mackay Machinery and Ross Agri.  

How long are machines kept for?

It really just depends on their reliability, but most tractors are going away with 8000 to 9000 hours. When we ran eight, we changed one every year. 
Combines and choppers are also changed on reliability and how much work they’ve to get through. 

Best tractor 
you’ve had?

The John Deere 7810 – it was just such a reliable tractor and had so much power about it. We had four of them and you could have dropped a bomb next to them and nothing would have happened. 
Another favourite was the Ford 7810 Jubilee – it worked our first one pass in the 1990s.  
If your tractor is reliable and is backed with a good service that’s all that matters. There’s no point having a fancy machine if you’ve not got good service.  

Worst tractor?

It has to be the Case 5150 Maxxum – it was no problem until it reached 5000 hours and then it just kept breaking down. There were hydraulic and gearbox problems, so we sold it with 5200 hours. 

Favourite job?

Greg: Silage is the best time of year. The weather is usually better, and everyone is in a better humour. There doesn’t seem to be the same panic at silage time and it’s more relaxed compared to the spring work when there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get the job done. 
Scott: Sowing with the Lemken 6m drill and the Fendt 936. It’s a job you’ve got to really concentrate on, but it’s a relief once you see all the barley through the ground. 
We went from a 4m to a 6m drill and the plan was to work it 24 hours but its capacity meant we didn’t have to do any 24-hour days. Auto-steer was fitted in 2013 and it has helped massively. 
How has the weather impacted your business?

Silage was a real struggle last year – you weren’t getting anything done during the week and then you were going like mad at the weekends. Chopping was three weeks later than usual, so you were cutting massive, heavy crops which took longer to get through. 
Last year’s harvest was just as bad. We managed to get ourselves stuck five times in the one park with two combines, so we went to the next-door park and got stuck again.
This year’s spring wasn’t much better, but once we got going we got through it ok. We had to put in bigger days sowing than usual to get it all done. 

The Scottish Farmer:
Fendt 936 with a Krone triple mower attached, which results in around 2000 acres of grass being chopped each year

What struggles come with contracting?

The continual rise in the cost of machinery is an obvious one. In just one year, the price of a Fendt tractor rose by £25,000. How can you justify that?
And, the price of red diesel – it only seems to rise in a busy spell and recently rose by as much as 3p per litre in one week.  
Weather is another obvious struggle, you’re forever fighting against it. You’re usually busier in a wet year than you are in a dry year, though, because people need help to get finished and this usually brings you more work. You have your usual customers, but then there’s always lads you’ve to try and squeeze in, just to give them a help.

The Scottish Farmer:

Roughly 1000 acres is combined each year, using a Claas Lexion 450 and a Claas Tucano 440

Best thing about contracting?

You get out and about and see the countryside, so you’re never just stuck on 
the farm. Farming can be a lonely industry, so it’s good to go out and get everyone’s chat. 
You come home with some great ideas from other farms – it’s amazing what you see and learn from other farmers.

The Scottish Farmer:

Throughout the winter, Scott works with a housebuilder, doing drainage, construction and maintenance work, with the family’s diggers


Tractors: Fendt 936, MF 6495, MF 7726, JD 6420, JD 6930 x2, JD 6210R x2, JD 8360R, Case 4230.
Vintage: Ford 7000 x2, Ford 5000, Ford 4000, Nuffield 10/60.
Loaders/diggers: JCB Loadall, JCB 3cx contractor, JCB 418s shovel, Volvo EC 140 B, Volvo EC 140 E, Takeuchi TB 153 FR, Takeuchi TB.
Combines and cultivation: Claas Lexion 450, Claas Tucano 440, KV five-furrow plough x2, KV four-furrow plough, Lemken 3m drill, Lemken 4m drill, Lemken 6m drill x2, Opico 6m grass seeder, Lemken 4m power harrow, Opico sward lifter, Dowdswell rotovator.
Grassland equipment: Claas Jaguar 860 dynamic power; McHale Fusion3 x2, McHale V640 baler; Welger RP435; MF 2190 square baler; Krone EasyCut 320 CV; Krone EasyCut B1000 CV; Claas Volto 900 tedder; Claas Liner 3100; Claas Liner 2800; Spearhead 700 Pro hedge-cutter/quad sow. 
Other equipment: Bunning 105 Lowlander muck spreader x2, Bunning 150 Lowlander muck spreader HD HBD, Bredal K105 lime spreader, Bredal K85 lime spreader, Kuhn Axis 40-1 fertiliser spreader, Redrock 14-tonne trailer x3, Bailey 11-tonne trailer, Kane 12-tonne trailer; NC dump trailer x2, Kane dump trailer, Bailey 30ft flat trailer, HiSpec 2500-gallon slurry tanker, JD 732 24m sprayer.