For our next Contractor Yard’s series, we travelled up to Caithness to speak with the recently established team of Gow Agricultural, based at Halkirk, near Thurso.

The agri-contracting business was formed by Alan Gow in 2018 as an expansion into his Gow Group, consisting of four other avenues – plant hire, groundworks, transports, and aggregates.

The agriculture business took on Neil Suttar, just last June to lead the team. He certainly had the experience behind him, having worked with John Deere dealerships and contractors for the past 20 years, both here and in New Zealand.

Between Neil, Alan and employee, James Mackay, the business is continuing to expand and work up their customer base, Neil gave us an insight into the running of the business …

How did you build up your business and your customer base?

We started out with one tractor, which was originally used for the contracting side, and a lime spreader and developed from there through speaking to local farmers to understand their needs.

We are slowly developing and adding to our services as customer requirements come in and are always hoping to get busier and expand our customer base.

Our biggest promotion is word of mouth, you have got to make a good job to get your name out there. We try to do a bit of advertising on facebook and this year we have flyers going out, just to let more folk know about us and what we are all about.

Neil sowing spring barley near Reay, Caithness

Neil sowing spring barley near Reay, Caithness

What areas do you cover?

Caithness and Sutherland. I would go anywhere if there was enough work to make it viable for us as well.

A list of services you supply?

There is a range of services and we are always looking into other areas depending on customer demand.

Some of our services include: Ploughing; cultivating; grass seeding; one pass sowing; rolling; mowing; supplying and spreading lime; baling and wrapping; bale stacking; hedge cutting; straw supply; field drainage; farm groundworks; snow clearing and gritting; road maintenance; repairs and servicing; telehandler hire; tractor and trailer hire.

The most profitable job, the supply and spreading of lime

The most profitable job, the supply and spreading of lime

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?

It is a very seasonal job, so everything keeps us busy at different times of the year. For me, personally, I also undertake most of the mechanic repairs, which certainly keeps me going.

The most profitable within the agriculture services is most likely the supplying and spreading of lime.

How brand loyal are you and which dealerships do you mainly use?

We always use John Deere ... nothing else. I have just worked with them for so long that I can’t see past them – when you get used to one make you don’t see any point in switching.

Since I had worked in a dealership, I had worked with a lot of tractors, but I think they are the best ... although each to their own!

Previously, we have worked with HRN tractors for our dealership, but since they are not now the John Deere dealership, we will need to look elsewhere. It all also depends on the price and the service they provide, which I could not fault HRN Tractors for.

Neil cutting silage on a nice summers day

Neil cutting silage on a nice summers day

How often do you change your tractors?

The simple answer – it depends.

We are currently running two John Deere tractors, a 6930 and 6155r. As I am quite particular, I like having my own tractor, rather than switching about.

We aim to keep them around five years, or transport them to another avenue of the business, like the construction side.

Favourite job?

When everything is going according to plan, I love all jobs! I am happy enough on my tools or in my 6155r tractor – I am quite easily pleased. But no two days are the same.

James muck shifting with Gow Groundworks on a wind farm

James muck shifting with Gow Groundworks on a wind farm

Best bits about contracting?

Socialising with so many different people and offering such a wide range of services. The job is very versatile and is great to see the landscape that is around us.

Everything has its ups and downs, you either love it or you hate it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. The long hours can be a bit challenging come peak season, and they do take their toll, but at the end of the day you have just got to suck it up and get on with it! I love what I do.

How does the dramatical changes in weather patterns impact your business?

You have to be flexible and work around the weather. Thankfully, we always have the mechanical work to fall back on when the weather is against us.

What advice would you give to a new contractor starting out?

Decide what you are going to do and make a good job of doing it – bad news travels faster than praise! Don’t take too much on at once ... find your feet first as you can always expand thereafter.

Lee busy on a contract crushing job in Caithness

Lee busy on a contract crushing job in Caithness

Is there a lot of demand for local contracting?

Due to the short weather window, we have been undertaking any jobs we can get out hands on, it means there is more work available as they are mainly all weather permitting.

There are very few full-time contractors up here, the majority also run a farm, which is where we differ as we can go straight to a job.


The other avenues of the business. The groundwork is where it all started, and each expansion has been to diversify the company even more.

Alan Gow Groundworks has been running since 2007 and has progressively expanded over the years. This part of the business deals with all the operated plant hires and groundworks contracting. Its main office is in Halkirk and they also have an office in Inverness.

Gow Plant is our plant and tool hire company run from our base in Halkirk by Sarah Morrison. We also have a small shop with various tools and consumables for sale. This is slowly expanding and works closely with Alan Gow Groundworks.

Shaun Macleod runs the haulage company, Gow Transport, which carries out various plant deliveries across the country and Shaun added a cattle float to the expanding business last year. I work closely with Shaun organising deliveries of lime and bales etc.

Gow Aggregates is run by Lee Bews, who oversees the running of our quarry in the local area and has branched out into contract crushing this year. This is another branch to the Gow 'tree' that works closely with Groundworks and Transport.

You can see all the companies are interlinked and we all work together to ensure we provide a reliable and efficient service to our customers.

Gow Transport collecting bales of straw to speed the job up

Gow Transport collecting bales of straw to speed the job up

Has the on-going pandemic had an effect on your business?

On the agricultural front we have been lucky enough not to be affected majorly compared to other businesses – livestock still had to be fed daily and farmers never stopped.

We run quite a fresh fleet as we do not like seeing big repair and breakdown bills, so we haven’t required a lot of parts during the pandemic that has held us up.

What are you missing most under the current lockdown restrictions?

The pub re-opening! Although being kept busy in the job you forget about everything that is going on.

Another service the company provides baling which is certainly a popular one

Another service the company provides baling which is certainly a popular one

What changes have you seen over the years?

Alan has been running the whole business for 14 years and he only started with a digger, it is amazing to see what he has worked up to. Each of his companies work hand in hand and he manages to oversee everything to keep the ship running.

Future of Gow Agricultural contractors?

We are continuing to build up our customer base and hope to run a fleet of tractors along with a bigger variety of services. However, we just have got to take it as it comes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Future of the industry?

There will also be a need for some sort of agricultural contractors due to the price of the machinery and making it viable in any company.

Farms are getting bigger now and are tending to buy their own machinery to keep their expenses down, however running a full machinery team for all agricultural jobs will be hard to make the money back for someone not doing it full time, even contractors can’t offer every service due to the price of the kit.

Shaun delivering calcium lime to customer in Bettyhill, Sutherland

Shaun delivering calcium lime to customer in Bettyhill, Sutherland

List of inventory

  • John Deere 6155R
  • John Deere 6930 premium
  • Merlo TF 33.7
  • Bomford hedge cutter
  • AgriSpread lime spreader
  • Gritters x2
  • Snow ploughs x2
  • John Deere R310R mower
  • John Deere C441R combi baler wrapper
  • Opico grass seeder
  • Four furrow dowswell plough
  • New Kvernland one pass seed drill
  • Transit van for mobile repairs and maintenance
James mucking shifting near Tongue, Sutherland

James mucking shifting near Tongue, Sutherland