A cost-effective system that delivers for its customers is the number one rule at D and E Smith Contractors, based at Mains of Inkhorn, Auchnagatt, Aberdeenshire.

Three generations of the Smith family are now in control of the farming and contracting business which carries out various works and services from silage, muck spreading, harvesting and all the way through to ground maintenance.

The three partners are currently Doug, his son, Davie and his wife, Marie, who work along with their son, Jake. The contracting business was established over 30 years ago when Davie purchased a Marshall muck spreader – a great local brand for the North!

With that, he picked up work in the area and also managed to hire the machine out to local farmers – which cut their costs and also helped him spread the cost (pardon the pun) of the machine.

It was a singular success and so much so that soon afterwards a second muck spreader was bought, though Davie continued working on the farm as the contracting business grew.

Although the business more recently had downsized – mainly due to the cost of replacing and running machinery – they decided to venture into different avenues and broaden their business away from upsizing its grass silage alone, which has done the business wonders.

Jake shared the ins and outs behind the contracting life with The Scottish Farmer.

Carting with their 16 tonne grain trailer

Carting with their 16 tonne grain trailer

Where did it all begin for you?

I helped outside when I was young. When it came to leaving school, although there was plenty to do, my dad was keen for me to go away to gain experience instead of coming straight home to work.

So, I did a National Certificate (NC) in Agriculture at SRUC Oatridge before returning home. I knew I would always end up contracting alongside my family, but I’m glad I got the experience and have met new friends in the same industry.

How has the business grown over the last 30 years?

We started with a couple of machines and grew from there. But now we have realised it is more cost efficient to diversify into different avenues as opposed to becoming big in one sector of contracting. We work as a family and employ no staff to ensure we can maximise the inputs to our business.


How has the business been diversifying to keep afloat?

At the farm we now house 1100 pigs on a bed and breakfast service, which makes use of the sheds throughout the year. It required a lot of commitment ensuring they are fed, healthy and clean every day, which my grandad mainly looks after.

We also look after 700 Blackface ewe hoggs which are grazed throughout the winter.

Again, we have taken on several jobs not necessarily farming orientated, such as gritting and snow ploughing, at various sites in Aberdeen as well as ground maintenance work, mainly cutting grass and generally keeping things tidy.

For most of the time dad works off farm operating a grain dresser and sprayer for a local company.

What areas do you cover?

For the contracting, we cover around a 15-mile radius purely because there’s enough work there, although we would never turn down a job if it was worthwhile.

Digger work allows for more maintenance jobs for the family

Digger work allows for more maintenance jobs for the family

What keeps you busiest?

Harvest time, carting off from combines. Between doing jobs at home, getting bales wrapped and cutting silage there is always something on the go.

We do a fair bit of work for a local AD plant, which requires carting silage and rye into the pit, then spreading the digestate after it has done its work.

I also work with a local contractor by operating one of their tractors and drill, as well as their combine and swather when required to keep different avenues open. We also cart tanks of fertilisers and water for a local spraying company which can mean that we cover a lot of miles annually.

The winter months are busy with gritting, as well as snow clearing if needed, and, of course, keeping on top of our maintenance!

Is there a lot of demand for local contractors?

When my dad started contacting there were only a couple of other locals, there are now many more. That makes it harder for us to get jobs, however, there is still enough work for everyone and we have been kept steady over the years.

More people seem to have started contracting as they see it as an extra value to their farm and a lot of farmers have also purchased their own machinery to try and do a lot of jobs themselves.

Getting ready for silage with the front and back mowers working

Getting ready for silage with the front and back mowers working

Do you think there will always be a need for agriculture contractors?

Yes, farmers are buying balers and mowers for the smaller jobs, but for the likes of the bigger jobs, like sowing and combining, it is a lot of money for the farmer to justify a machine to sit in the shed the rest of the year.

How often do you change your tractors?

The tractors tend to be changed every three to four years. Everything is serviced and maintained from start to finish to ensure they last their lifetime.

Last year, I purchased my own JCB tractor to try and do more work. I opted for an older one to ensure I could buy it outright as opposed to having a high fee to pay each month and having to find more work than we are capable of.

Keeping grass pitches tidy is another avenue for the business

Keeping grass pitches tidy is another avenue for the business

What dealerships do you use?

The Claas tractors, Stewart trailers and the majority of our silage kit come from Sellars at Oldmeldrum. My Fastrac came from RAH Engineering, near New Pitsligo, whilst the Manitou loader is supplied by DM Forklifts, Stonehaven, and we go to Ravenhill, Maud, for most of our general spares.

No one wants breakdowns, but if it does happen we need to have the machine back in the field working as quickly as possible, having that local back up service is crucial. They are great companies to work with, all providing a very reliable service.

What do you enjoy most on the job?

Mowing or baling silage with our McHale Fusion bale wrapper. It is fine weather and getting around the country for a change of scenery always makes the job worth it.

On the flip side, what’s one job you would give your grandad?

Draining, driving the digger is fine – but trying to find pipes underground it isn’t the easiest and you can waste a lot of time on it.

What struggles come with contracting?

The price of machinery is continuing to rise year on year, as is bale wrap. Producers know it is something everyone requires, so everyone needs to pay the price in some way or other.

Plus, the weather is always a challenge.

But the days that make up for anything and that I enjoy most would be when you come away from a farm and the customer is delighted with the quality of work you have done.

Ground maintenance is a huge part of the business today

Ground maintenance is a huge part of the business today

What advice would you give to a new contractor?

Start small, don’t go out and buy a heap of new machinery. You can do the same amount of work with older, reliable machinery at a much lower cost, so that is a no brainer to me!

Make a good job of your work to get your name out there and you will get the work again and again.

Interests out with the business?

I just work most of the time and I am interested in keeping the business pursuing to it’s full potential.

Has Covid-19 impacted your business?

We have been lucky to not be hugely affected by the pandemic. The majority of our jobs have gone ahead with agriculture being essential. When we are doing work on farms, we are mainly self-isolating in our cabs anyway!

The ground maintenance jobs were affected for a while and spare parts have taken an extra day or two to arrive, but nothing extraordinary.

What are you missing most under the current lockdown restrictions?

Getting out and about, especially to the agricultural shows. The Royal Highland is my one holiday of the year, it is great to socialise there with everyone!

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

For nicer weather, save me standing in the rain!

How are you future-proofing the business?

Diversifying into different avenues and changing things up a bit. There are always cars on the roads for gritting to be done, grass and weeds are always going to grow and need cut.

We will try to do any jobs that we get offered for our family business to thrive together.

Claas Disco front and back mowers on the go

Claas Disco front and back mowers on the go

List of inventory:

JCB Fastrac 2170 tractor

Claas Arion 630 tractor

Manitou telehandler

McHale Fusion 3 baler/wrapper

Claas Disco front and back mowers

Claas Liner 2700 rake

Claas tedder

Trailers – Stewart 16-tonne grain trailer, bale trailer, 15-tonne dump trailer and tri-axle low loader; Bailey 16-tonne grain trailer

Sprayers – 20m and 12m

Caterpillar slew 13-tonne

Two Rolland muck spreaders