Forward thinking, David Robertson, always aims for the best for his own agricultural contracting business, DS Robertson, based in East Kilbride.


I started out on my own in 2015 with a strong background in the industry, having worked at home on our family dairy farm – running 120 cows – as well as working with a contractor throughout the summer.

Travelling to Canada in 2014 to work for six months opened my eyes and inspired me. I wanted to try something different, and it allowed me to get away from here and the pressures that were on me at the time. I knew I wanted to make a fresh start and make a go of it myself.

On my return I established DS Robertson and I enjoy being my own boss as I can do things as I want.

I first purchased my own tractor, umbilical hoses and a fertiliser spreader, which continue to be my main services within the business.

In 2018 my family gave up the dairy, and now run just 50 young dairy stock which they sell as heifers, and they bed and breakfast the neighbours’ dairy cattle as well as owning 200 breeding ewes.

I am very fortunate that my dad will work with me when and if I need him. It saves a big headache of getting men, as I couldn’t justify a full-time employee throughout the winter.


The John Deere 950r triple mowers out at work getting ready for silage

The John Deere 950r triple mowers out at work getting ready for silage


What did you do in order to grow the business?

I had five or six good customers that I started with, it was a good foundation to get myself started and progressively worked up from there.

I am fortunate enough that our customers have also expanded their farms in the last few years which increases my workload as well.

The best way to advertise is word of mouth, which means I need to have a high standard of work all the time.

What areas do you cover?

The central belt, being based in East Kilbride, we travel through to St Andrews and back to Ayr.

Is there a lot of demand for local contracting?

There is a big demand for contracting however we all stick to our own customers and work away with what we have got, so it works well.

A list of services you supply?

Umbilical slurry, fertiliser spreading, cutting silage, buck raking, grass seeding and through the winter snow ploughing and gritting.

We just do anything that I can go and do myself or with dad to save running a big fleet of tractors.


A popular service is grass seeding with the Einbock grass harrows with seedbox

A popular service is grass seeding with the Einbock grass harrows with seedbox


Diversifying the business?

After putting off the dairy cows in 2018 we still have all the acreage, so we will be cutting it to produce more haylage bales this year since we have the ground to do it.

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?

Umbilical Slurry, it really is an all-year round job now. More people are beginning to realise they need to apply slurry properly to help with their ground management as opposed to just getting rid of the waste product.

Most profitable job?

The bales.

Gritting throughout the winter is also a profitable job if we get a bad winter, however knowing what work you will get is impossible.

Balancing your costs in the unknown is the biggest challenge in the job.


Selling haylage bales is part of the diversification of the business and is one of the most profitable jobs

Selling haylage bales is part of the diversification of the business and is one of the most profitable jobs


What struggles come with contracting?

The price of machinery has just skyrocketed just now, whether it comes back down or not is a different story. The price of contracting will never catch up with the price of machinery, so we have to undertake more work to justify the price of our kit, which isn’t always easy.

How often do you change your tractors?

We have three tractors, one in which is kept new, changing it every four years, however the other two due to the price of machinery we can’t justify keeping them all new so have looked into good quality secondhand kit.

Which dealerships do you mainly use?

SlurryKat for all our slurry equipment, whilst the tractors are a mix between Mont Gomery and S and J Allan.

Since I am not hugely mechanical minded all of our servicing is provided by S and J Allan at Tarbolton. I would prefer to get someone that would make a good job of it rather than having a break down because of my own mistake.

I also work with Gordons at Strathaven for general spare parts and anything else we require along the way.


Keeping the business busy in the winter months is gritting contracts

Keeping the business busy in the winter months is gritting contracts


Best and worse bits of contracting?

I get a lot of job satisfaction in what I do – I want people to drive past and comment on how tidy of job I have made. During the summer when weather is nice you really cannot beat contracting.

However, on the flip side, when everything is getting wet, it is still raining and you are in fields that you shouldn’t be and making a mess, but the job needs to be done is what I hate. I like everything to be going smoothly and making a good job.

Weather changes dramatically, impact on this?

There appears to be a smaller window to get jobs complete now, everyone wants our services all at one time, especially with first cut.

The biggest challenge for me is a lot of our customers are getting other contractors in for silage and then we come into spread the slurry after. Which in turn means that they all get their silage done at the same time, so I’ve usually got five or six places all wanting me on the same day after first cut.

It just requires long hours and dedication to get the job done, we always manage to get around it one way or another.

What advice would you give to a new contractor?

It is not easy.

With the price of kit you need to make sure you have customers that want your service.

You can’t just go out and buy a tractor now and think you will take over, you need to have a strong foundation of customers that you can build.

Take pride in what you do rather than just being there to make money, you need to enjoy what you do!


Snow ploughing during the winter to keep the turnover coming in

Snow ploughing during the winter to keep the turnover coming in


Interests out with the business?

Spending time with my family when I can!

I also enjoy watching football, I used to have a season ticket at Ibrox, which was always a great day out.

Biggest achievement?

Making that jump at starting out on my own.

Has the pandemic influenced your business?

Not hugely we have been fortunate enough as an industry that our trade always needed to continue. Of course, we had to take extra precautions with social distancing, hand sanitising and keeping ourselves safe, but we still managed to work right through.

If you have ordered any new machinery now, you could be waiting a while…

What changes have you seen over the years?

The size and price of machinery.

The time in which everything needs to be completed to increase our workload so that we can pay off our machinery. We need twice the machinery to do it all in half the time…


The fleet of tractors that runs under DA Robertson

The fleet of tractors that runs under DA Robertson


Problems within the industry?

Undercutting, some contractors go out their way to complete jobs at half the price of another just to try and gain work. However, long term that is not sustainable as contractors need to pay their expenses.

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

The weather. It would be good to know what the weather is going to be, and we could actually plan work in advance.

How are your future-proofing your business?

Keeping our equipment up to date and well maintained is our biggest aim in the business.

We are quite lucky our main customers are also heavily invested in their future, with the next generations coming through as well as securing new set ups.

Although there is always the risk that they might buy their own machinery to cut costs, I believe the way the price of machinery is going it is very difficult to justify it for your own farm.

New regulations are constantly coming into the industry, and it is something we need to keep on top of. The biggest one which will come into play soon is the low emissions of slurry spread, so for us it is crucial that we do not go out and buy kit that will be no use to us in a few years’ time.

It will all be down to the management of the ground and the environment, so we would like to invest in a NIR sensor in the near future. It monitors the nutrients that are coming through the slurry which we would then document to the farmer, so they know what is being applied to their land.

We would to be able to plug in a USB and hand it over to the farmer when we leave.


Umbilical slurry is the biggest part of the business, here at sunset hours dont matter come peak season of the business

Umbilical slurry is the biggest part of the business, here at sunset hours don't matter come peak season of the business


Any concerns about the future of the industry as a whole?

The Government seem to want to source our food from other countries, and the way I see it they don’t want farms over here, their biggest concern is tree planting which will not feed our nation.

Secondly, the big concern is whether farms can sustain what they are doing for the price they receive for their produce. The price is no where near where it should be, and it just means there is less money in the industry especially further down the line for us contractors.

We all need to work together to provide a strong future together.