WE head back to the north of the country for this week’s Contractor’s Yard which features the Wilson family – Allan, Alyson and their son Stuart – who run Allan WJ Wilson at Balnagore, near Tain, in Ross-shire. 
Originally, Allan and Alyson hailed from Ayrshire, where Allan worked as a farm manager and did a bit of contracting in the local area, before they made the big move up to Ross-shire in 1976. 
Just a few years down the line, the Wilsons established their own contracting business when they started out with a lime spreader, a self-propelled forager and did hedge cutting within Ross-shire. 
They also took over a local drainage business when the previous owner, Jack Oman, retired. Over the years, both businesses expanded massively and at one point, the Wilsons employed as many as 18 men.
Now, with nearly 40 years in business, the addition of son Stuart in 1994 and continual investment and maintenance of their equipment, has meant that the Wilson’s business has continued to go from strength to strength. 

What work do you carry out throughout the year?
We do everything from stubble to stubble, apart from spraying – as we sold our two self-propelled sprayers
Each year, we sow roughly 7000 acres, including cereals and grass seed; plough 2500 acres; combine 1900 acres; bale and wrap up to 15,000 silage bales; square and round bale 40,000 bales; and sell and spread around 4000 tonnes of lime, which is applied at variable rate, as is fertiliser. 
We were the first in the north to use field mapping when we introduced it 10 years ago and it has made great improvements. It’s really helped level out the fields and when we enter a field we know the exact acreage which allows us to work accordingly. All our tractors are fitted with GreenStar GPS, so every field we go into is mapped. 
When spreading muck with the Bunning, we use weigh cells which can give us the correct tonne per acre and that can spread up to 36m. 
We’re kept busy too with hedge and grass cutting and we were heavily involved with snow clearing this year. In fact, Stuart was called out three times in one night during the Beast from the East storm. Drainage work also keeps us busy, usually throughout the winter. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Sowing with one of the 4 metre Lemken drills above the Cromarty Firth

Where are your customers based?
Our main area of work is from Dornoch right down to Dingwall, but for silage, we do go as far north as Brora and right over to Fairburn at Muir of Ord, in the Black Isle. 

How brand loyal 
are you?

Allan: I’m a served time mechanic and have worked with John Deeres for a long time – they’re just the best. 
To me they have the complete package and hold their second-hand value. The comfort, parts, service, reliability and GPS systems are second to none. We bought a JD 3350 in 1991 and we’ve had them ever since. And, the mechanics are always willing to travel out late in the evening to fix a problem.
We had two Deutz for a while which were good tractors, but John Deere has edged them back out. 
We’re big McHale fans and wouldn’t have anything else for the baling side of things. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Each year the team plough around 2500 acres using a Kverneland six-furrow and five-furrow

Dealerships used?
We deal with HRN, at Muir of Ord; Mark Garrick, at Elgin; Sellers, at Invergordon; Ravenhill, at Dingwall; and Alistair Young Engineering, near Forres.

Favourite piece 
of kit?

Without a doubt it’s the McHale Fusion – nothing can compare with the quality of silage it produces. 
The back-up and performance from McHale is superb. In the past we’ve tried Bomford, John Deere and Claas, but the Fusion makes quality, rock hard bales which our customers want. We are on to our third Fusion and the current one is heading into its third season. 

Latest purchase?
We’ve just recently bought a Vaderstad Tempo precision drill – the first one in Scotland after Stuart saw it in the factory four years ago. 
It will mainly be used for precision sowing fodder beet and turnips although we do plan to try sowing oilseed rape with it alongside the six-leg subsoiler. There’s a lot more fodder beet grown in the area now due to monitor farm recommendations. 

The Scottish Farmer:

The first ever Vaderstad Tempo precision drill in Scotland 

Oldest machine?
A Grays Tubeliner bale wrapper that we bought in May, 1994, for £8790. It’s used half-a-dozen times each harvest to wrap ammonia-treated straw and a bit of silage. 
In 2000 it did as many as 7000 bales, but in more recent years the number of bales has dropped. 
Having said that, the demand for fodder will be higher than ever this year so farmers might look at treating more straw. 
We code each machine and record its workload using Farmplan software so that we know exactly how many bales its churning out – and the same goes for the other implements within the fleet. 

The Scottish Farmer:

SILAGE 2018 kicked off this week at Brucefield Farm

Best tractor you’ve ever had?
A 120hp John Deere 6620 which we sold last year with 12,000 hours. It never really broke down in its lifetime with us. 
Another favourite was Stuart’s first ever tractor – a John Deere 3350. 

How long are machines kept for and do you ever buy second-hand machines?
There’s no fixed term. We tend to look at all the machines at the end of each season when they come through the workshop. 
It just depends upon reliability, how much work they’re doing and running costs. 
Most of our machines are bought new so that we know exactly what we’re getting. In 2017 we bought five new John Deeres – three 6215Rs and two 6175Rs. 
By us investing in new machinery, it’s an investment for our customers too. They see the benefits directly. 

We don’t have anything in mind, but we always like to keep up with the trend. Technology moves so fast and we try to look forward. Instead of looking at how ‘it’s aye been’, you’ve got to look at other options. 

Are there any machinery classics within the fleet?
Allan: I have a John Deere 710 which I restored last summer. I bought it 38 years ago with a seized engine and after doing it up, I then quickly sold it before it went wrong again. It spent 36 years towing salmon fishing boats in and out of water. 
When I took it back last January, it wasn’t in the best of nick, although engine-wise it was running ok. The biggest problem now is trying to find the spares, which often means I have to make them out of bits I’ve got lying around the workshop. 
It’s back up and running now though and it’s been at two ploughing matches in Easter Ross and the Black Isle. 

The Scottish Farmer:

The classic John Deere 710 taking part in a ploughing match

Favourite job?
Stuart: Ploughing. I do a few ploughing matches each year and am a past Scottish junior champion. I plough with a Kverneland six-furrow and a John Deere 6215R. 
Allan: Going to the bank with the cheques!

Least favourite job?
Stuart: Topping. Even though I do all the mowing at silage time, the topper just becomes tedious. 
Allan: Chasing bad debt.

The Scottish Farmer:

Stuart does all the mowing at silage time with his John Deere 6215R and Kuhn mowers 

What struggles come with contracting?
Not knowing what tomorrow will bring and you’re always fighting against the weather. Communication with your customers is key so that you know exactly what workload is coming up. 
When you’re situated as far north, it can be a pain when you’re needing spare parts from the south. As soon as you say your postcode is IV20, it no longer becomes next day delivery and it can cost £100 more to get bits up here. 
Easter Ross is a small area and doesn’t have the width to travel different routes, so you can only really drive one way. The A9 is a busy road to work with. 
Aside from the rising cost of machinery, when fuel prices rocket it can become really costly. During peak times, our tank will get filled three times each week on a Monday, Thursday and Saturday so that’s 13,500 litres per week. 

How has the weather impacted your business?
The harvest in 2017 was a struggle as we were three weeks later in finishing combining and it wasn’t easy trying to get winter crops in. 
At least nowadays, when we have the opportunity to get going we have big machines to get through the workload.
Silage and hay wise, we didn’t get to make the same amount of hay last year as we usually do, and last year’s stuff probably wasn’t as good as usual. 
Although our area was badly hit by the Beast from the East, we turned out to have a cracker of a spring and once we got started the sowing we never stopped. 
Some days, we were managing to knock out 250 acres per day with a team of three drills on the go. 

Best bits?
The variety of jobs and the different parts of the country we work in keeps it interesting. We meet up with people every day and some of today’s customers have been with us from day one. There really is nothing better than when customers phone you up and thank you.

Allan, Alyson, Stuart and a team of seven men.

Tractors: 3 John Deere 6215R; 2 JD 6175R; JD 6630. 
Forklift: Manitou. 
Combine: Claas Lexion 570 Terratrac with 25ft header and a Lexion 550 with 22ft header. 
Cultivation equipment: 2 Lemken 4m drills, Vaderstad Spirit, Opico Till seeder, Vaderstad bio drill, Vaderstad Tempo, KV six-furrow plough, KV five-furrow plough, Vaderstad 12m rollers and cultivators/subsoilers. 
Grassland: Front and rear Kuhn mowers, 2 McHale V660 balers, McHale Fusion 3 Plus baler/wrapper, Grays Tubeliner and Vredo overseeder.
Other equipment: Bunning muck spreader, Spearhead hedge cutter, Bomford hedge cutter, 16t JCB excavator, NH B11OC digger, 2 NC 12 tonne trailers, NC low loader and Wilson snow blade.