This week we head to Ayrshire for our next Contractor’s Yard series to speak with 28-year-old, David Cooper, director of Strathdoon Farming.

His agricultural contracting business began in 2015 by rearing dairy cross calves, plus the all-important purchase of his first McHale Fusion baler and tractor. Demand grew for another contractor in David’s area and he began baling for customers.

The company has since witnessed a huge expansion and is now able to offer a full range of services, which include silage harvesting, ploughing, dung and slurry spreading, plus a host of other services.

To keep his own little balance on farming issues, David still runs a smaller suckler herd that is put to an Aberdeen-Angus bull and is currently calving to keep him busy through the winter months.

David attends to the day-to-day running of the business himself, along with his partner, Loren Easton, who undertakes much of the book-work.

For the business as a whole, the team consists of three full-time staff, four part-timers and at peak times more can be brought in on demand.

“Although I am not the typical farmer’s son taking on a business, I have always loved farming and found the machinery fascinating. When you are out working in the good weather and watching everything come together, it continues to motivate you,” said David.

The Scottish Farmer: Silage keeps the team the busiest throughout the year, Krone 680 out at work Silage keeps the team the busiest throughout the year, Krone 680 out at work

Which areas do you cover?

We will travel throughout most of Ayrshire, but we are flexible in that we will not refuse clients as long as it works for our business.

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?

Silage, one way or another, is certainly our main business at peak times of year.

To keep us busy through the winter months, we also undertake umbilical slurry pumping and spreading, dung spreading, transporting diggers and anything that you can use a dump trailer for – really, whatever work we can get our hands on.

The hay and straw that was made through the summer will also be transported through the winter and most years we will turn over 2000 bales of straw and move around 1000 bales of haylage.

If that doesn’t keep us busy enough, we also run a small sucker herd of Aberdeen-Angus cross cows which are in the middle of calving.

The Scottish Farmer: This Fendt tractor with the Kuhn 4 rotor rake preparing for a big day at grass This Fendt tractor with the Kuhn 4 rotor rake preparing for a big day at grass

What dealerships do you use?

We are predominately a Fendt fleet and as such we use our local dealership, John H McNae, at Tarbolton.

They provide us with an unbeatable service for which we are very grateful. We have always got on really well with them and I don’t have any reason as to why we would change. They deliver what we demand!

What changes have you witnessed over the years?

The dramatic increase in price of machinery in the short number of years I have been buying machines.

The factories are packed full and there are people still out there buying the kit, so when demand is as high as it is, it is only going to move upwards!

We charge the same price for our services now as we did five years ago, so something is going to have to give somewhere along the lines.

The Scottish Farmer: Seeing double?Seeing double?

How has your business grown over the years?

I started with zero. I have not come from a farming background and I am not a farmer’s son, so I have tried to work my way up from scratch and develop my own business.

We started by just baling hay and haylage from the acres we had to get into the equine market and from there my love for machinery grew. Although I am not as far on as I would like to be, if I grow in the next five years as much as I have in the last five years, I will be happy!

How important are your staff to the business?

They are – no pun intended – the drivers of the business, as 95% of the total business is dependant on who is driving what machine.

A good man can do a lot for the business, they can make a bad machine look good. A well-respected man in the industry working for us can do us wonders, not only for getting us more customers but also providing that high quality service that is above our competitors.

Fortunately, we have been lucky enough not to run into too many problems with finding the right people at the peak time of year, but it is always a stress …

The Scottish Farmer: Fendt tractor with the Richard western dung spreader (12 t) Fendt tractor with the Richard western dung spreader (12 t)

Favourite and least favourite jobs?

Watching the whole operation working well and running smoothly. Although I am a driver, there is nothing better at peak times than making everything work well and seeing it all coming together.

A personal favourite would have to be driving the forager purely for the power it has behind it, whilst I am not the biggest lover of working with slurry!

What advice would you give to a new contractor?

There is no individual piece of advice that makes a difference. It is a combination of having everything in place to do a job, everything has to work when it’s needed and preparation is key.

Keep your head and don’t listen to others around you who may not wish you well.

The Scottish Farmer: Krone triple mowers and Krone front and back mowers set up for a picture Krone triple mowers and Krone front and back mowers set up for a picture

Is there a lot of demand for local contracting?

Ayrshire hosts more dairy farms than any other area in Scotland – so there is always plenty of grass to be chopped and that, nowadays, means there has to be contracting demand to do it.

Dairy farmers require their silage to be of high quality and sometimes the bad weather will play into our hands if other contractors can’t fulfil all of their customers in a small weather window.

Best and worst bits of contracting?

The best bit is the good weather and the worst is the bad weather – that’s just part of the love of living in Scotland.

The Scottish Farmer: Slurrykat umbilical system is another feature of Strathdoon Farming Slurrykat umbilical system is another feature of Strathdoon Farming

Interests out with the business?

My life is my business. Every day my brain is thinking about contracting ... it’s sad really!

What struggles come with contracting?

Cash flow. Being able to manage wages, fuel bills and maintenance of the machinery – everyone wants paid every month of the year, where as we don’t bring in the same money each month.

The majority of our customers now split their silage bills throughout the year, so they pay a fixed sum each month, as opposed to one massive annual payment.

Not only does it work better for us, but it also saves the farmers forking out a huge lump sum. When I started, it was a huge gamble for us undertaking all of the work and just praying no huge bills appeared in November.

The majority of businesses out with farming work on a monthly basis, so why shouldn’t we?

The Scottish Farmer: Fendt Rotanna balers producing the goods to be delivered out to customers Fendt Rotanna balers producing the goods to be delivered out to customers

How are you future proofing your business?

I aim to gain a small number of customers per year and make sure every year we grow sustainably. We look at anything in demand and if a customer asks for something we will always explore it.

I never want to be standing still and so I will always try and move our business forward.

The future of the industry?

I do believe the Covid-19 pandemic has made people realise the importance of supporting Scottish produce and that is something that needs to be promoted more.

Farming has to win out of it all. It is an industry that has always been here and it is easy to believe that it will not be changing much in a hurry.

The biggest threat is going to be the value of land and the huge number of good farms that are turning into forests. The difference in one acre on a 20-year scale is that what was once £1500 per acre, now stands at £17,000 – that is just unrecognisable.

We just have to all stick together and hope that we can get through it altogether.

The Scottish Farmer: Looking down on some raking Looking down on some raking