WITH last year’s summer being described by many as the worst Scotland has ever seen, it’s a wonder that agricultural businesses are still going, but that is certainly the case for the Paxton family, who run BA Paxton contracting, at South Milmain Farm, Stoneykirk, Stranraer.

Established by Brian in 1989, after he felt there was a “gap in the market” in the area, the business soon blossomed, and now employs a peak of 20 staff during the summer, as well as Brian, his wife, Karen, and son, Adam.

The Paxton’s daughter, Amy, is a pharmacist at the local hospital.

All questions were answered by Brian, with input from Adam.

How did you get your business started?

I borrowed £3500 from my parents, and something similar to D and G Rural Enterprise matched that.

My mother always claims she never got her money back, but I would say she did in many different ways.

How did you ensure your business was a success?

That first year I started, I filled my winters feeding cattle for the late John McIntosh snr, which I was taught to do by Abby and Frankie, and I really did have to keep working at other jobs to keep things going. 

I was also a time-served mechanic, so I did some of that work as well.

It takes a long time to build things up, and a good run of luck, as well as a strong customer base, and my customers are very loyal, which has helped me a lot, and which I am so grateful for.

The great thing is, I still work for some of my very first customers.

The Scottish Farmer:

THIS John Deere 6145R is fitted with GPS and auto-steer to aid in the precision application of slurry Ref:RH190318089

What kind of area do you cover?

We cover a radius of around 30 miles, ranging from Girvan, to Drummore, to Newton Stewart.

How would you describe contracting in this area?

I would say that the biggest struggle of being down here is that we are becoming more isolated, and there’s a lack of employment in the local community which is unfortunate.

The Scottish Farmer:

AN UMBILICAL slurry system is kept supplied by vacuum tankers emptying from the road side Ref:RH190318099

How many members of staff do you employ?

We currently employ 10 full-time staff, and 10 flexible staff. During the summer, we hit a peak of about 20, with an average of 15 members of staff at one time.

Dealerships used?

We buy our machines from J and S Montgomery, Stranraer; Gordons, Stranraer; Lloyds, and Shire Agri-Hire.

The Scottish Farmer:

MAKING the most of the dry conditions this week – this Claas Arion 630 and Bunning Lowlander Mk4-105 muck spreader spreading the dry matter left over from a slurry separation process Ref:RH190318110

Least favourite machine?

I once had a Shelburn Reynolds auto-swather, and I had hoped that it would be a cheap way to cut cereals, but it was just a pig of a thing, and I don’t think we ever managed to get a full day’s work out of it.

Favourite piece of kit?

We have a Kuhn Axis 40.1 fertiliser spreader with the mapping system and variable rate on it. 

It’s amazing, you just put a wee chip in it, and away it goes.

The Scottish Farmer:

John Deere 6175R teamed with a Kverneland 5 furrow plough Ref:RH190318102

Newest and oldest piece of kit?

We recently purchased a Claas 660 tracked combine, a Claas 950 chopper, and three John Deere tractors.

The oldest bit of kit we have is three older tractors, and they are a David Brown 1200, a Massey Ferguson 135, and a Massey Ferguson 690. 

These move the combine headers in the summer, and we use them for ploughing matches, which we try to hold once a month throughout the winter. 

Having them is great because it also means we’ve got some older bits of kit that the youngsters can come and have a shot of.

How long do you keep machines for?

We usually renew our machines once we have had them for three years, at around 6000 hours, however, due to emissions, and the rising cost of the machinery, we have had to extend that to four years, at around 8000 hours.

The Scottish Farmer:

PAXTON'S company logo

Favourite job?

I like working at the variable rate fertiliser, and I like the technology behind it, and we are big believers in variable rates and variable mapping.

The science is all there, but the industry doesn’t use it enough, but that’s because people have less time on their hands, and less staff, and I don’t think people have a willingness to try new things.

Least favourite job?

Cutting the lawn for Karen – I feel we cut enough grass as it is.

What other jobs keep you busy throughout the year?

We have a diet feeder and that’s a job for a man in the winter, and slurry is the busiest job at the moment, but it’s a struggle to keep up with that because the weather is so much worse than it used to be.

How would you describe 2017’s weather?

Firstly, I would say that the seasons as a whole have really changed.

Nowadays you don’t just get a shower of rain, you get an inch, and we’ve not had a full dry week here since last July.

Last year was the worst harvest I have ever seen, even worse than 1985. 

There was 800 acres of silage that we just never managed to get cut, and that could have been another 400 acres if it wasn’t for the fact we have tracked combines. 

Four farms never got their third cut silage done, and we actually heard of a farmer chopping in Newton Stewart a fortnight ago.

We also had a customer baling straw here three weeks ago as well.

We also only managed to plant half the winter crop last year, which certainly puts a lot of pressure on the spring crop.

It’s just been a disaster, and it’ll certainly be a late spring. 

We are managing to get some ploughing done today for the first time, which is the latest we have ever started.

We are usually seeding by around late February to early March, but it’s only just starting to turn around now.

It’s just a big seasonal change, and it’s putting huge pressure on this industry.

Honestly, though, I actually think that the average rainfall hasn’t really changed that much, it’s the time of year that the rain falls that is the issue.

What are the biggest changes you have seen over the years?

Machinery is more expensive, and the biggest cost on this industry is emissions and currency rates.

In terms of emissions, I feel that we are the ones who are having to carry the burden of becoming greener, and it’s a huge cost that will continue to rise, as there’s two more tiers to go yet, and the worst thing is that the government, etc, seems to think it’s acceptable, and it’s not.

Overall, we have to use 12% more fuel in order to be greener, and over the last five years, tractor costs have risen 50% due to emissions and currency rates.

What is your favourite time of year?

I love the spring of the year and the summer, if we get one.

Has the lack of straw affected farmers in this area?

I would say it has a bit, but the shortage has definitely meant that people are making better use of it.

The inventory:

Tractors: five John Deeres, four Class and two New Hollands (six of which have auto-steer)

Combines: one Claas Lexion 660 on tracks, one Class Lexion 670 on tracks and one Claas Lexion 620 on wheels

Choppers: one Class 860 and one Claas 950

Loaders: one JCB 130, and one JCB 320

Trailers: seven Heron silage trailers, one Marshall flat-bed trailer, and one MCN flat-bed trailer

Balers: two McHale Fusion 3 Plus

Spreaders: one Kuhn axis 40.1, with a mapping system and variable rate

Other bits of kit: one Horsch four metre seed drill, and one Lempkin four metre seed drill; three umbilical systems; two dribble bars; one splash plate; four 3500 gallon umbilical tankers; two Claas 2900 rakes; one Claas 3600 rake; one set of triple mowers; one set of front and backs, and one Rotogrind straw chopper.