OUR contractors’ series has, thus far, featured companies mainly based in agriculture, but this week, we branched out and interviewed a contractor with a focus in agriculture, and in other areas, too.

This led us to Michael Woods (Woodzy), 29, of Michael J Woods Ltd Agri Contracting and Plant Hire, based in Stewarton, East Ayrshire

His business has been established since 2014, which has seen him take on work at a pipeline project in Ayrshire, a winter gritting contract with Ayrshire Road Alliance, and some agricultural contracting work in the summer.

Michael discussed how his business started, what it has achieved so far, and what his plans are for the future.

How did you establish your business?

My interest has always been in agriculture, and that’s because I grew up on a farm in Stewarton, and was surrounded by a family of farmers all my life.

I worked in agriculture for a few years, and I was an apprentice mechanic at Agricar, Dundonald, and then at Gordons Engineers, Berryhill, before I started working on a self-employed basis for Muirhead Plant Hire. I then started working for QTS Group, based outside of Drumclog, Strathaven, also on a self-employed basis, for six years, and that work is still ongoing, from time to time.

I was initially a lorry driver at QTS, before becoming an operator of road rail plant, and, due to the nature of the work, I was mostly working at night, which allowed me to do my own work during the day.

The Scottish Farmer:

DAF 55 6m3 gritter lorry and two Vale 5m3 tractor gritters

After working double shifts for a number of years, I was able to purchase my first tractor in 2014, a Case IH Puma 145, and that was when I established the business. 

Overall, I have now been self-employed for 10 years.

What kind of work did you do in the beginning?

That first summer, I did some silage work, while I also continued to work on the railway, and on a cable-running job for Balfour Beattie, which was through Blackwood Plant Hire.

I then approached Caledonian Water Alliance, as they had started a new pipeline project, spanning across Ayrshire, and I offered to do some low-loader and dump trailer work for them.

By that point, I had purchased my second tractor, so I supplied two of my own, and then hired in another two tractors, and we have kept that same contract with CWA ever since.

That contract was my first long-term job, which is still ongoing, and, after that, the business really took off.

Were there in struggles in the early stages of setting up your business?

I had to do a lot of double shifts, working day and night, and that was hard-going at times, but I’m glad I did it because I wanted to keep finance to a minimum, and pay things upfront as much as I could, so it was really worthwhile.

It was a dream to have my own contracting business, and I always wanted to do it, and sometimes I take a moment and look at how far I have come since that time, working days and nights, and see what I have. It’s a great feeling knowing that I have achieved all of that, on my own, with the support of my employees.

The Scottish Farmer:

ONE of the Case 175s, taken during the wintry weather, earlier this year, with snow plough and gritter attached

What work keeps you the busiest?

CWA provides work all-year-round on the pipeline, and we are currently contracted to spray 23km of top soil bunds, which has to be done in order to kill off all weeds, and any wild grass, before reinstatement of the ground to the farmers.

Once the ground is reinstated, we have to carry out soil sampling and lime spreading, before working the land, which is followed by seeding and fertilising, and my hope is that if we do a good enough job, more job opportunities will arise from that. 

Three of us also grit roads around Ayrshire for six months of the year, during the winter, from about mid-October to around mid-April.

As well as running my own business, I also drive a Claas forager during the summer months, and that’s for Alexander Watt Contracting Ltd, at Benthall, East Kilbride.

How many staff do you employ?

I currently employ five people, and they are; my cousin, Andrew Nisbet (Mini Tinny), Ross Montgomerie (Monty), Stuart Black (Bogdan), Michael Agnew (Mick), and Thomas Loudon (Tam), and they all live in the local area.

Although he’s not human, my Jack Russell, Milo, is who I consider to be my right-hand-man. I take him everywhere with me, and he really is great company during those long nights gritting in the winter. I don’t know what I would do without him at times.

Do you have a good relationship with your staff?

I get on really well with all of them, and I put a lot of effort into encouraging the boys, and in turn they put a lot of effort into their work.

I also like them to get as many certificates as they can, and for the construction side of things, I have up-skilled the boys to obtain their Class One driving licences, and that’s in order to comply with the laws in place outside of farming.

The Scottish Farmer:

IMPRESSIVE line-up of all of the company's current Case tractors

Some of the boys also have their PA1, PA2 and PA6 spraying certificates, which is required for them to spray the top soil bunds on the pipeline land. 

This also allows me to spray the ground for farmers as a PA1 and PA2 certificate are required to do so.

My biggest problem is all of the Young Farmers days out, because the boys all want to be off at the same time – it’s a pain. 

But, I can’t deny what a great organisation Young Farmers is to be a part of and, last year, I sponsored 30 polo shirts for Kilmaurs and District YFC, which I was delighted to do.

I only wish that I had been a member of Young Farmers when I was a bit younger.

Did 2017’s weather affect you?

The weather was a disaster, particularly for grass seeding on the pipeline, and I had to do it on days that I probably shouldn’t have. Often, I just had to hope for the best, but I was lucky that it actually worked, because that would have been a cost to the business, and a failure, and reflected badly on me, which I would have hated.

Although the hard winter was a total pain for everyone, I was actually really grateful because it kept us busy due to the amount of gritting we had to do. It was obviously a lot of hard work and long hours, but, from a financial point of view, it was very beneficial for the business.

I honestly don’t what I would have done without the boys helping me with the gritting run, as it was very tiring during those winter months, and it was neverending.

The Scottish Farmer:

CASE tractor with digger on the back, which is used for working on the Ayrshire pipeline

How often do you renew your tractors?

I change my tractors at around 6000 hours because I feel, at that point, it is still a good tractor for someone else to get some use out of, and the hours aren’t too high.

Favourite tractor?

My favourite tractor is my Case IH 175 limited edition – I would buy it over and over again due to its great power, comfort and reliability.

Least favourite?

I don’t like Massey Fergusons at all – when you get into the cab, they have this stupid dip in the roof and you crack your head on it every single time you get in.

Dealerships used?

I buy most of my machinery from Ramsay and Jackson, based in Mauchline, and the back-up, service and support they have given me has been second-to-none.

Some of my other machinery and equipment has been purchased privately.

Who manages your paperwork and accounts?

Currently, I do that myself out of an office at home and that includes all of the business’s bookkeeping and invoicing, as well as my social media accounts. 

It can be time consuming, so I may consider employing someone else to do it for me in the future.

Is there anything you dislike about your work?

I hate cyclists in the summer time when you’re working hard, trying to get things done. They think they own the roads and you can never get past them, and when you do get past them, they are usually not happy about it.

The Scottish Farmer:

HONDA quad bike with Boom sprayer attached, which is used for spraying weeds and wild grass on pipeline land which is to be reinstated

What is your opinion about farming overall at the moment?

You see a lot of smaller farms disappearing, and larger farms getting bigger. It’s sad to see those smaller farms disappear, and I think we are going to be left with a few massive farms, located much further apart, with less smaller farms in between, and that is a shame.

The farming community is made up of some amazing people and they do so much for us – we would all be lost without them. 

I think that there’s a lot of people out there who need to realise that, before the smaller farms disappear altogether.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to continue with, and grow the construction work so that the income from that can assist me in working more in the agricultural side of things, and I have already started doing that by working in collaboration with Jim Watt, of Alexander Watt Contracting.

I am determined to make a success of my company, on my own, without taking work away from other people and I think that all of the local contractors can work together, and alongside one another, because there is plenty of work for everyone.

I have recently started picking up more agricultural work of my own, and I’m hoping that this will lead to more of the same, in the future.

The Scottish Farmer:

NEWLY purchased Scania V8 R620 lorry, for which a new four axle Hofer low-loader trailer has been purchased