FROM a one-man band to a full-line inventory, that’s the story we found when we headed along to Arthurshiels Farm, in Quothquan, near Biggar, for the next instalment in our Contractor’s Yard series.

Featuring Duncan Lyon and his team, the business of DW Lyon, was, until 2006, based at the family farm, Quothquan Mill – which has been in the family for 118 years, but Duncan decided to make the move across the road to Arthurshiels, from where the business grew.

DW Lyon is a family-run agricultural contracting business, which has also recently set up a firewood splitting and selling business to keep them busy throughout the winter, when contracting gets a little quieter.

Duncan started this business at a young age more than 25 years ago, purely because there was not enough work on the family farm for him to stay at home. He has grown from ‘one man and his tractor’ to running a full-blown contracting business covering all types of work throughout the year, and always looking for diversification ideas to future proof his business.

The Scottish Farmer:

The log mill keep the contracting team busy when things are quieter in the winter

“To start off with, I had to make sure the tractor made money. It was a huge gamble at the time, but it has luckily worked out well for me and I have gradually built up the firm over the years,” said Duncan.

He now takes on a number of services, including silage; crop services such as combining, baling, bruising,; ploughing and seeding; digger and groundwork; spreaders – dung, and fertiliser; plus, field management work.

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?

“It is just a constant cycle for us, from seeding, silage to harvesting. It is the balance we aim for trying to juggle a variety of jobs so it is always going to have its difficulties.

“The overlap of jobs can be a problem with us and when the weather is not great, people start shouting – but there is not much we can do. Everyone wants us at the same time.

“If we had good weather all the time, our job would be a doddle,” said Duncan.

The Scottish Farmer:

Buckraking is part of the 'silage team' work that is carried out through the summer

What areas do you cover?

“We are lucky enough to have enough work locally to keep us busy! We mainly work within a 10-mile radius. It is a good farming area to be contracting in – there’s plenty of work and we can still keep it local,” said Duncan.

Favourite job among contracting?

“Combining – but only when the phone is not ringing! I also, enjoy the aftermath of seeding, seeing everything greening up, and people becoming happier … as they can then visually see what all the work was about.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Combing is another job that keeps the team busy – this is their Claas Lexion combine in action

What struggles come with contracting?

“Weather is our number one issue. It causes us a lot of problems, delaying a lot of our jobs when it is too wet, and we end up having a long list of jobs needing done at the same time.

“Cash flow can sometimes be an issue. Machinery costs have dramatically increased over the past decade but the farming community don’t have enough money coming in which would allow us to raise our prices accordingly, so we have to be as efficient as we can and cover more acres to balance these increased costs.”

Best bits of contracting?

“Contracting is great in the overview, but dealing with lots of different farmers is challenging and exciting. The agricultural community is an exceptional one to be part of and we wouldn’t change our involvement with it for the world.”

The Scottish Farmer:

The business' Krone chopper makes short work of a silage crop on a rare sunny day last summer

How important are staff to the business?

“They make the business what it is. If we did not have the skilled and experienced staff that we do, DW Lyon would struggle. They play a key importance in the role of the business being successful. It’s great that they can be left to do a job without constant monitoring and know when to stop if the weather turns.”

Brands of machinery

“We have John Deere, Fendt, and Claas tractors, plus Krone silage kit and Claas combines as the main brands used within our contracting business.”

The Scottish Farmer:

One of the Amazone one-pass seeding combinations in action sowing last year

What dealerships do you use?

“DW Lyon is always looking for a good service and the best deal, which we have found in DKR, Hamilton Tractors, Gordons and McNae’s – we need someone to be able to come out on breakdown calls when required and always be there for the team. Those companies deliver this for us time and time again.

“We do like to keep everything right, so we are strict on our maintenance and make sure everything is always up to date, which we mainly do ourselves.”

What changes have you seen over the years?

“The biggest change has definitely been in the rising cost of the machines. It is becoming extremely challenging and sometimes the increased cost of the kit makes it very difficult for contractors to break-even and puts a lot of pressure on us.

“ With many of them now, we need to increase our output, to make it pay.”

What advice would you give to a new contractor?

“Always be on time. Clients don’t like it when you are late, unless you have a valid reason. Therefore, it is also important to be honest, people prefer the truth as to why you got held up at a previous job, eg breakdowns, you can’t help them, everyone has them!

“When buying new kit, don’t go splashing the cash all at once, you need to make sure the machines will pay.

The Scottish Farmer:

One of the Amazone one-pass seeding combinations in action sowing last year

Interests out with the business?

“Competing in tug-of-war was a huge interest for me. I have just completed my last world championship and I have now decided to retire – with having two young children, it is just too time consuming in the winter with all the trainings and keeping fit.

“But it has been a great career, and I am not giving up the sport entirely. I will still compete at local events and help coach where I can. I also enjoy shooting, skiing and cycling.”

How are you future-proofing your business?

“The firewood and biomass are two great schemes which have started to keep us busy during the winter months. This year, we have already processed 1000 tonnes of wood over the winter and it now takes up a quarter of our business turnover.

“The firewood business was started 10 years ago and has rapidly grown in size. In 2016, we purchased a Glenfarrow biomass boiler and log kiln. The kilns work well in drying the logs down to a consistent 20% moisture content, ensuring that we can deliver a consistent dry log product for our customers.

“The wood can also be processed into logs for use in RHI biomass heating systems, or can be cut specifically for customers to the length and quantity that they wish. We produce two types of wood – pine/larch and hard wood – and all can be home delivered.

“We are always looking at different ways of diversifying as I think it is key to any business that is going to survive the future, we need to keep up with change.

“To this end we have just purchased a McHale Fusion baler for this season which is capable of using plastic for the full baling and wrapping process which, for recycling purposes, can all be processed together.

The Scottish Farmer:

The firewood processor which takes lengths of timber and cuts them into roundals and then creates uniform set length and width logs which are then passed over a cleaner to take out small pieces

How do you find clients?

“Some of our customers have been with us for more than 20 years. Others come and go, but we are always consistently expanding our customer base and the services we provide them with.

What’s the future of contracting?

“There will always be a demand for it. The way it is going, there is not going to be enough contractors in the future to do the work, there is plenty of work out there for everyone.

“We all just need to work together and make contracting as efficient as we can to allow us to continue our career.

Any concerns about the future of the industry?

“Everything is going to change, with government regulations having an external impact on our business that cannot be changed and we have no say in it.

“It is out of our hands, we need to be able to adapt and grab any other opportunities given to us.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Overlooking a ploughing job on a rare sunny day, with Tinto Hill pictured behind


Tractors: John Deere 6215; John Deere 6170; Fendt 724; Claas 610.

Grass machinery: Krone Big X 700; John Deere triple mowers; John Deere double mowers; Claas four rotor rake; Krone two rotor rake; Krone tedder; 12-tonne silage trailers x 3; 10t dump trailer.

Other machinery: Bogballe fertiliser spreader; Amazone one pass seeders x 2; five-furrow Variwidth Gregoire Besson plough.

Combining/baling: Claas Lexion 410; Claas Tucano 430; McHale Fusion baler; McHale variable chamber baler; John Deere baler; Bunning 10t spreader; Takeuchi 9t digger.

Firewood: Posch firewood processors x 2 .


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