We cross the Border this week for our latest Contractors Yard feature on the very much family run business, JO Straughan and Co, which covers Northumberland areas as well as the Scottish Borders, based at Netherton Park, Morpeth, Northumberland.

Husband and wife duo, Roger and Sandra, now run the business alongside their son, David and his wife Debbie, and their second son, Stuart.

The team provide an extensive range of services to meet the needs of their customers from single operations through to full farm contracts.

“We always endeavour to get it right first time, you may never get a second chance, which is why we try to operate with the latest machinery and equipment and keep our kit new to ensure reliability,” said Roger, who runs a team of eight staff through the winter and by the summer there will be 16 employees on the go.

The Scottish Farmer:

CASE QUADTRAC 500 working land with a Great Plains Uni-Press

What areas do you cover?

We aim to work within a 30-mile radius from our base. However in the spring we travel up to 80 miles, as we have the contract with Scottish Borders Produce for the establishment of vining peas.

What keeps you busiest?

It is very seasonal – from March through to October we can be doing anything from seeding, fertiliser, silage, haylage and harvesting. A lot of jobs end up overlapping, but we do a bit of everything and try to cover as many jobs as we can.

During the winter, along with doing all of our own maintenance and keeping machines in check, we do a lot of hedge cutting.

The Scottish Farmer:

FENDT 1050 drilling cereals with 8m Vaderstad Rapid drill

How important are your staff?

They are the most important element of our business. If they give us the dedication we are looking for, we make sure to involve them in the business, as well as discussing what machines they like and what suits them.

We want to respect their views, especially given that we operate a one man, one machine policy so they will be in the same machine all season.

Which dealerships do you mainly use?

We are always looking for a reliable service that meets our needs. We use Claas for all of our harvesting machines – combines, rakes, foragers – and we have one Claas tractor, all of which are supplied by Rickerby, at Alnwick.

The main fleet of tractors are Fendt supplied by Carrs Billington, plus a Case Quadtrac, which was supplied by Paxtons.

Favourite and least favourite jobs?

My personal favourites would have to be combining and drilling.

I must say there is no such thing as a bad job, some are just better than others – but they all have to be done! I wouldn’t ask someone to do a job that I wouldn’t do myself.

The Scottish Farmer:

FENDT 1050 with Great Plain SL 500 working land, applying liquid fertiliser and sowing Oil Seed Rape in one pass

Favourite machine?

The Fendt 1050 tractor. It is so universal and has the sheer power and size for any job.

Best and worse bits of contracting?

The best is watching the progress from planting right through to harvest. As well as watching the silage team working together to clear fields with superb efficiency.

The biggest factor to our business without a doubt is the typical British weather! We try to overcome this with the extra machines we have at hand to create that extra capacity when everyone wants our service at once.

You just have to go when you can and have to be prepared to cope with the weather patterns. The weather gaps and seasons are, without a doubt, getting smaller, but there are never two years alike, so it is all about planning and adapting to each year.

What advice would you give to a new contractor?

It is so difficult for someone starting out, so I would always advise to gain the experience before venturing out on your own.

Be sure to charge the correct price. There is no point in under-cutting established contractors, as you still have to make it pay.

The Scottish Farmer:

FENDT 720 hedge cutting with McConnel swinging flail hedge cutter with variable forward reach arm

How have things changed over the years?

You just have to adapt to changes as they come along.

Cost of production is by far the biggest change over the years.

The technology within machinery is unbelievable now ... they almost drive themselves! GPS systems has helped us to become more efficient. Although we are perhaps not the cheapest service, we guarantee the service and if there is a problem we will solve it.

We are now a big part of farms, as a lot of our clients will just get us into do everything. A lot of them can’t justify the machinery costs and others will keep very few bits of kit.

How often do you change your tractors?

With the cost of machinery now we need to take them to 10,000 hours to justify the price, which on average will mean we have them for around six to eight years.

The Fendt are really reliable and durable, which is crucial in our industry. They also hold a good re-sale value.

The Scottish Farmer:

CLAAS JAGUAR 970 picking up grass to chop for silage

Interests out with the business?

Competition ploughing, which I now judge nationally. There’s also game shooting throughout the winter and I play a bit of golf – but only when the sun shines!

Is there a lot of demand for local contracting?

We have been in the trade for 65 years and seen a lot of contractors come and go. To be successful you need to stick the hours and work night and day to keep your customers happy at peak time of the season.

It has always been in my blood and I enjoy it, it is now even more rewarding watching my two sons working alongside me.

What struggles come with the job?

The input costs to the company from the cost of machinery and trying to keep running costs to a minimum. The price of machinery has risen drastically over the years and it is crucial that we make it pay, so we need our machines to be doing a lot more work than they have ever done.

We also now need the right operator in the driving seat. It is no longer just ‘a driver’ – with the amount of technology on board these days, they need to be able to work it. Our staff need to be keen and able to use the technology correctly, which they do!

How has your company diversified?

Our wagons have been a great way for us to adapt our business, taking the grain straight off the combines and going to store it as well as supplying straw when our customers need it.

We have also spread 50,000 tonnes of enhanced treated bio-solids – through Veolia Environmental Services – which goes on the land after crops have been taken off. Pardon the pun, but that’s spread over an eight-week period and has brought us in a lot more clients.

The Scottish Farmer:

FENDT 724 with krone 1290 HDP baler with X-Cut chopper baling haylage

Has Covid-19 had any impact?

None on the business side of thing, which we are very fortunate about. We operate a one man one machine policy, so they are really self-isolating in there anyway!

How are your future-proofing your business?

We are communicating with our customers on a long term basis, to justify higher costs of investments or purchasing machinery to ensure we are fully prepared for our future.

I am vice-president of the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, and it is a scheme everyone should be involved in bringing the industry together.

There will always be a need for agricultural contractors. Increasing environmental requirements of Farm Assurance Schemes necessitate a professional to carry out the work.

Not only this but farmers are becoming more aware of their costs of production and find it hard to justify the finance for such expensive machinery, therefore it is sometimes cheaper and easier just to get contractors into do everything.

The Scottish Farmer:

CLAAS LEXION 760 terra trac cutting wheat