PERTHSHIRE contractor, Keith Miller – who began contracting almost 30 years ago – has managed to build up one of the district’s best-known contracting businesses, KDM Contracting, based at Guildtown, near Perth. 
Situated in amongst prime arable land in the county, each year Keith and his trusty team sow as much as 4000 acres of cereals, harvest up to 1800 acres and also prepare around 600 acres of ground for carrots, tatties and Swedes.
They’re kept busy at home, too, as the Millers lease the 543-acre unit at Mavisbank and contract farm a further 1200 acres in the surrounding area.
Between the three units, they grow 500 acres of winter wheat; 550 acres of spring barley; 150 acres of carrots and 150 acres of tatties. Around 40 acres of Swedes are grown as a cash crop, as well as 40 acres of rye for digestate. 
On the livestock side, the Millers run a herd of 30 suckler cows and 170 breeding ewes. 
Spring barley is produced for malting and sold to East of Scotland Farms, WM Lindsay and Frontier, while tatties go to Morrisons, at Carnoustie and neeps and carrots head to Kettle Produce, in Fife. 
The majority of the questions were answered by son, David, with a little input from Keith and employee, Graham, who has been working with the Millers for 14 years.

The Scottish Farmer:

How did your contracting business begin?

Keith: I started contracting in 1989 when I hired a Steyr tractor and went out to different farms and used their machinery on my tractor. 
After building up a good customer base, the following year I bought a Kverneland one-pass drill and a round baler plus a tubeline wrapper for silage. We still have some of those original customers to this day. 
In 2011, we changed the company to KDM Contracting and since then have grown each year. 

What’s the main bulk of work carried out and where?
We do a variety of work throughout the year, sowing approximately 4000 acres of cereals plus we ridge and separate 600 acres of ground for carrots, tatties and swedes. Harvest time is busy too as we can cut up to 1800 acres of cereals and bale approx 18,000 bales with the big square baler. 
In the back-end, we’re applying straw to carrots to prevent frost damage. We do a bit of round bale silage throughout the summer, too, usually around 4000 bales. 
Most of our customers are within the Perthshire district, but we do go as far north as Montrose, which takes an hour and a half in the tractor. The furthest south we go is Tibbermore, just outside Perth.

The Scottish Farmer:

Dealerships used?
New Holland tractors are bought from AgriCar; our straw layers and irrigators are sourced from Jones Engineering and ploughs are bought from HRN. 
We also use Root Services for tattie planters and our tyres are sourced from Redpath Tyres.

Favourite and least favourite machine?
David: My favourite would be the Massey Ferguson 2190 square baler. It keeps you busiest at harvest time and when using it the sun is usually shining! It’s five-years-old now and will do about 10,000 bales each year. 
My least favourite piece of kit has to be an irrigator. They always take a while to set up and you usually only need them for a short period of time. We have four irrigators but due to the continuing wet summers, we haven’t had to use them for a while now!
Graham: My favourite machine is the Lemken 4m drill. Sowing is one of the more enjoyable jobs and you get left to it. It’s good to see the end product but you’ve just to hope it grows out the ground in the right places! 

Best and worst tractor you’ve had?
David: The NH T7270 is a great tractor. We’ve not had many issues with it at all and it’s adequate for everything it can do. It’s mainly used for ridging in the spring, on the tattie planter, square baling at harvest and pulling the straw layers for carrots.
Our worst tractor would have to be the Manitou 735 forklift which we sold over a year ago having done around 6000 hours. It just caused problems and we ended up spending a lot of money it. 
The 7m boom and 3.5-tonne lift capacity was handy, but it had just seen better days.

The Scottish Farmer:

Newest and oldest piece of kit?
We’ve just bought two new New Holland tractors – a T7290 and a T7260. We’ve replaced a 270 with a 290 which will be used for pulling the 6m drill and the square baler.
The T7260 has replaced an old one and will do the majority of ploughing. 
The oldest machine is our BB980 New Holland Hesston-type baler. The baler has been with us since 2008 and still comes out every year as the reliable third baler. 

How long do you keep machines for?
Tractors are usually kept until they’re three-years-old, having done roughly 7000 hours. 
Combines are kept longer as they don’t work as hard, usually up until they are five-years-old.

Why New Holland?
David: We’ve bought New Holland tractors for a number of years now. The service is second to none and the mechanics are always out to you quickly. 
It’s a straightforward tractor to work with which is a bonus when bringing in additional staff who maybe aren’t so familiar with New Hollands. 
Graham: The New Holland is a reliable tractor and easy to use. It’s handy having the GPS integrated into the tractor as there aren’t so many screens in your way.

Do you have a favourite job or least favourite job?
David: Putting straw on carrots is a favourite job of mine. You know exactly what you’re doing 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. Unless it’s torrential rain or heavy winds, nothing will stop you so you can always get the job done. If you make a good job of covering the carrots, it’s satisfying to see it throughout the winter. 
Graham: Every job is a good job if you get left to get on with it yourself. I particularly like combing and spraying though. My least favourite job is putting nets onto the turnips – it’s always a messy job and is very weather dependent.

The Scottish Farmer:

Favourite time of year?
David: Harvest is my favourite time of year. If you get a good spell of weather you can get the combining and baling done in good time. 
If you do get wet days you can cart bales into the carrot fields so you always have a job to get on with.

What keeps you busy during the quiet periods?
David: We’re usually hedge cutting in the back-end before we get into the heart of spring. During bad spells of snow we snow plough places in Perth, including at Aviva’s call centre and Esso garages. Other jobs like ploughing and lifting neeps can be done throughout quiet spells, too. 

The Scottish Farmer:

How would you describe 2017’s harvest?
David: It was challenging to say the least, particularly when trying to get straw baled in the condition we wanted it for carrots. 
The customers who use straw for bedding had to turn it a few times first before they needed the balers, so it was hard to satisfy customer’s needs and be on time. 
At home, we dried a lot more grain than usual which increased fuel costs. Last harvest was a bit damaging on the revenue side, especially when you look you receive for what you produce.
Keith: We were under a lot of pressure to get the combine over the ground and in most fields the crops were lying flat, so it was harder to cut. It was difficult trying to get finished but we got there in the end. 

What are the struggles when it comes to running a contracting business?
David: Meeting everyone’s demands and trying to be everywhere on a dry day!

The Scottish Farmer:


Tractors – NH T7290; NH T7270 x2; NH T7260; NH T7250; NH T7220
Forklifts – Manitou 735 and Manitou 741 
Combine – NH CR
Cultivation – 6m Lemken drill one pass; 4m Lemken one pass x2; Kverneland six-furrow plough; Scanstone bedtiller three-bed; Scanstone destoners x3; Jones bedformer; Monosem carrot seeder three-bed; Grimme tattie planter; Lemken Karat cultivator. 
Balers – McHale V660 round baler; MF 2190 big square baler; NH BB9090 big square baler; NH BB980 big square baler.
Other kit – Self-propelled Bateman sprayer RB35 with 36m boom; Spearhead hedge cutter; KRM fertiliser spreader; Jones nine bale straw layers x2; and a Pottinger mower. 

Full-time: Keith, David, Graham Alexander, Barrie MacPherson, Brian Shaw and Ross MacLeod. 
Additional staff: Two extra staff are brought during the spring time, while another four are taken on at harvest.