SOUTH-WEST Scotland was the destination for this week’s feature, and that was to visit Graham Rae, of G Rae Contracting Ltd, based at Newton Farm, Kirkpatrick Fleming, Lockerbie.

Having been in business for almost 50 years, Graham has established a renowned set-up, which, he claimed, wouldn’t exist without his loyal staff, two of whom were very accommodating, taking our reporter for a spin in two of the business’s choppers, in which time they divulged just how much respect they have for their boss.

During the interview, it was clear that Graham’s relationship with his staff is certainly a good one, and one of the main reasons for the business’s success, coupled with his supportive customers, some of whom have been with him since day one.

Add to that a realistic outlook on life, it is easy to see why Graham has managed to keep his business running efficiently over the years, and why it has truly stood the test of time.

All questions were answered by Graham.

How did you establish the business?

I started the business in 1971. I came from a farming background, and was one of six children, and the farm wasn’t large enough to accommodate any of us, particularly in terms of modern farming, and it was really just a case of going out and finding something else which kept me in agriculture.

I always had an interest in machinery, and I used to go to the Davidsons of Hillhead as a boy, which added to my interest in machinery.

At that point, I started to ask some local farmers if there would be work for me if I purchased a tractor, and they said there would be, particularly because, at that time, machinery was becoming more and more expensive, and farmers couldn’t afford it the same as they used to, and they didn’t really have the staff required to carry out the work, so I decided to give it a go.

My dad was a guarantor for a £2000 loan, and I used that to purchase a Ford 4000, which cost £1620.

The first job I ever did, as a contractor, was empty a slurry tank for Geoff Ivinson, for £2.50 an hour, and that took me a total of eight hours to complete, and ever since then, he always tells me: “I’m still looking for someone that will do that job again for the same price as you,” and that came to a grand total of £20.

The Scottish Farmer:

CLASS 950 chopper, working at a suckler herd farm in Kirkpatrick Fleming

In what way has the business grown?

The business has grown a lot since then, and although the number of customers has increased, their demands for more services has really increased, due to the changed environment that we find ourselves in nowadays.

What makes the business work?

I always say that the making of a business like this is the staff, and without them, it just wouldn’t work - I honestly couldn’t do it without them. 

My only concern now, really, is where on earth the staff are going to come from in future years, due to all of the changes we are seeing. 

Quite a lot of young farmers no longer want to milk - for example, they want to use robots, so I’m concerned that there may not be young farmers, or young people in agriculture as a whole, who want to come on and do this kind of work.

Our customer base is also very important, because that’s what keeps us going, and their loyalty is amazing. 

Some of our customers have been with us from the beginning, and remain with us today.

The Scottish Farmer:

VREDO DIRECT drill for grass seed on a New Holland T7.210

Dealerships used?

Due to the range of machinery that we use here, we deal with a number of local dealerships, and we are very grateful to the support that each and every one of them give to us.

What are your thoughts on 2017’s weather?

It was pretty horrendous, for both the customer and contractor. It was just so hard to find enough time to get the crops in, and I don’t know how we did it. We just had to make the days longer, and work longer hours, when the weather allowed.

The Scottish Farmer:

CASE IH CVX 185 with 10ft front and back mowers set-up

How does that compare to this year?

Well, this is the first time in my entire contracting career that we have been able to finish at a decent time each day, and still be able to meet our customers’ demands.

How many members of staff do you employ?

At present, we have 13 full-time staff, rising to 26 members of staff when we are running all three silage teams.

The Scottish Farmer:

ONE OF the 24-metre Kellands agri-buggy four-wheel steer sprayers working on some spring barley

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work in contracting?

People need to get a good few years of experience in farming first, and I believe that has helped some of the boys a lot who have come to work here, because it’s not exactly the kind of job that could be considered an apprenticeship as such, because you can’t really practice this kind of work.

For people looking to set-up on their own, I would always say, make sure you have the work to justify having a business, and the cost of machinery that you buy; don’t over finance, and make sure you get your bills out.

I think people have a kind of fear of finance, and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as you can afford to pay it off.

There is plenty of work for everyone, and there is definitely an opportunity for new businesses there.

What is your workload like?

We do around 17,000 acres of spraying and around 18,000 acres of silage, 2000 acres of which is whole crop, and around 1300 acres of combining.

Our main bulk of work is silage operation, slurry spreading, hedge cutting, and ploughing and re-seeding with different types of drills, which includes sowing grain.

The Scottish Farmer:

UMBILICAL SLURRY spreading on recently cut silage ground

Has there been many changes over the years?

I would say the price of machinery is one of the biggest changes, for example, the price of combines.

If our combines were not clear of finance, I don’t think it would be financially viable to carry on with that service, however, we are lucky that ours are still fresh enough that we can keep using them.

But yes, machinery overall, and equipment, has really gone up in price, and there is just no way that we could increase our prices to match the increase in machinery costs, and so we have just had to ensure that we are getting enough through-put to cover those costs.

One of the main things, as well, is that we try to keep the machinery as clean, and well-maintained as we can so that it retains as much second-hand value as possible, for trade-in purposes, and that is also in order to make the bit in the middle that we have to pay more affordable.

Another change that I always remember is when turbo mowers were introduced to replace reapers – that was just astounding.

A lot of the changes have been great, and amazing, but the turbo mower was totally revolutionary, and we went from two miles/hour cutting hay to eight miles/hour, and that was just great.

The introduction of sat-nav has also been an excellent modern revolution which pleases me, particularly for the accuracy it has created in fertiliser spreading, spraying and drilling.

However, like everything, there are some negative changes, and one I find the most irritating is Ad Blue, which is supposedly for emissions, but does it really make a difference?

What is your customer range?

We cover about a 30-mile radius, but most customers are within 10 miles.

Favourite job?

I generally like to oversee everything, and make sure it's all running smoothly. My favourite hands-on job, though, would be combining.

Did you ever anticipate the business being what it is today?

No. It has really grown with me, and I never thought we would reach this stage. But I always say, it’s not so much about what we do, it’s more about what we try to do, and that will continue.