Photographs by Zak Harrison

A TRIP to the Isle of Bute was on the cards this week, and that led us to Gordon ‘Butch’ Reynolds, of Gordon Reynolds Agricultural Contractor, who has been established in the business for six years.

Based on the island, Butch offers a comprehensive list of agricultural services to its farmers, ensuring that no job is left incomplete.

Having spent more than a year in New Zealand over the course of two separate trips, Butch learned all that is required to run a successful contracting business, and it is that experience which has helped him build his business up to what it is today.

He told us where it all started, and what life is like as a contractor on a small, but very friendly, Scottish island.

What is your backstory?

I am originally from Bute, and my mum was brought up on Bruchag Farm, along with her six brothers, so farming has always been in the family.

My parents and I moved to Falkirk when I was two-years-old and, as a kid, I always came back to Bute during the summer holidays to work on the farms here.

As I got older, I worked with John and Barry Kelly, at Hillend Farm, Slamannan, which was a great experience as I learned a lot about farming in general.

John and Barry have been great friends, and even to this day, I still give them a call if I ever need a bit of support, and they are always there to give me guidance and advice.

I came back to Bute at the age of 16 to work for my uncle James McAlister, at Bruchag, and I worked there for three years before I went to work for my uncle Duncan McAlister, at Ardroscadale, at the age of 19, for a few years.

I was a general farm worker and tractor man during both of those jobs.

When I was 21, I went to New Zealand for nine months to work for one of the big contractors out there, I then came back to Scotland, and, after a few months of working in Falkirk as a tractor man, I went to New Zealand again for a further eight months.

Upon my return, I went to work for the Nicholsons at Balfron, and I was there for around 12 months, which was again an invaluable experience, as they run a large farming and contracting enterprise.

How did you establish your business?

In March 2013, I decided to return to Bute and start up on my own as an agricultural contractor.

At that time, I was 23 and I could see that farm labour was on the decline around the farms on the island and so I thought if I was going to set up my own business, then this was my chance to do it.

Were farmers on Bute supportive of you starting up on your own?

I went and visited farmers on Bute to let them know my plans; some of them told me I should go back to New Zealand instead, while others told me to see it out and have a go at doing it myself.

It was quite a risk to take, so I can understand why some people thought I would be better off in New Zealand, but I just really wanted to be my own boss, so I felt it was worth at least giving it a try.

I purchased my first tractor from DKR at Biggar, a John Deere 6620, and a Richard Western dung spreader from another dealership, and that’s what got the business started. It has been a steep learning curve, but one I am enjoying.

However, there are always setbacks, like the weather as well as breakdowns and repairs to machinery, particularly at a time when you don’t really need them. How many members of staff do you employ?

I employ eight self-employed staff who work for me seasonally, and who I can call upon when they are required. I am really fortunate as they have a mix of experience and youth, but they have all been brought up on, or worked on, farms, and they can all do the jobs they are asked to do.

What area do you cover?

I offer my services from Bute to Glenderaul and round to Dunoon.

How many customers do you have?

At present, I have between 20 and 30 customers on the books.

What services do you offer?

I offer full silage operation, mowing, raking, pickup (which is done with a wagon), buckraking, slurry spreading, tanker and umbilical spreading, baling, wrapping, ploughing, dung spreading, grass rolling, fertiliser spreading, sowing, pan busting, low loader and trailer haulage and manual labour, such as winter feeding, etc.

Favourite job?

Mowing grass, especially since I purchased the double mowers. I have always enjoyed cutting, whether it has been here or in New Zealand, but I am happy to do any job that I’m asked to do - that’s what the business is all about.

Least favourite job?

The worst job is trying to get time to do paperwork, which I think is every farmer’s nightmare, however, I am grateful to my mum and dad, who do all of my invoicing and accounts for me.

How does life in New Zealand compare to life in Scotland?

The biggest thing about New Zealand is the difference in the weather – it’s so much better. The weather we got last summer was just like being back in New Zealand and it was great, for everyone.

People in New Zealand are more laid back and the working relationships between managers and staff there is second to none.

Attitudes are also different and that’s down to people being more relaxed, which is a result of better weather and better conditions, and I think that’s why people generally get on better.

What has changed most since you started in 2013?

There are fewer farms on the island now than when I first started. The workload is the same, though, and that’s because farmers in general are taking on more land, almost to compensate for the farmers that have left altogether.

More and more legislation is coming in around all aspects of farming, but especially with regards to the use of machinery and road haulage. I think it is important that tractors and machinery are fit for purpose and they are capable of doing the job they are asked to do, however, it can increase service and maintenance costs.

The cost of machinery has also increased a lot and since the business was established, I have always purchased new machinery, whenever possible, if it is a mainstream machine or tractor, but at the same time, the cost has to be justified.

You also find that farmers just aren’t buying new machinery now the way they used to, and that’s understandable. It may not be justified and affordable for them, so therefore they are relying more on the contractor to come in and do the work for them.

Favourite machine?

My John Deere 6195R, which was purchased in the spring of 2018. It’s so comfortable and is so easy to operate. It has also got power to spare for operating the silage wagon and any job it has to do.

Least favourite?

I once used a Lely rake and it was awful because it just didn’t row up at all, and left grass all over the field.

Dealerships used?

I deal a lot with J and S Montgomery at Beith and they have great back-up and a great sales team with great products to sell. I also deal with Hamilton Brothers, at Bishopton, and I have worked with them since day one and have built up a good relationship with them and bought a good bit of machinery from them. I also deal with Gordons at Strathaven, Agricar at Dundonald, S and J Allan at Tarbolton, John McNae at Tarbolton, Ramsay and Jackson at Mauchline, and Llyods at Carlisle.

A lot of these connections come from the internet and it is an excellent tool for sourcing machinery.

Donald Murray is our local agricultural engineer on the island, and he provides a first-class repair service to the farming community, and never sees you stuck.

Thoughts on 2017’s weather?

It was terrible, and that paired with the poor milk price we experienced in 2017 left a lot of farmers feeling down, which was really difficult for everyone on Bute.

We also saw the sale of the Dunallan and Bruchag herds which was quite a sad thing to experience. Those sales affected a lot of the island’s farmers and it was a shame to see two great farmers giving up, because they spent their lives building up pedigree herds which are renowned throughout the industry.

So, generally speaking, the weather made things so difficult, and added to an already stressful situation for Bute’s farmers, but 2018’s weather certainly helped to make up for it.

How do you envision Bute in the future?

I’m not entirely sure what the future holds, but we need young blood on the island and we need more opportunities for young people to come here and farm.

I took an opportunity and established a business which I am grateful for, and if more opportunities were presented, I believe more young people could come here and be successful.

As for myself, at present I work out of a farm here, but it is my hope to eventually have my own premises so that I can have a permanent base, and expand the business as and when it is required, as there is always a shopping list.