PORT William, in Dumfries and Galloway, is the location of this week’s Contractor's Yard feature, where we visited Russell Gaw, of RG Contracting Ltd, based at Low Drumskeog Farm.

RG Contracting has been in business for 24 years and Russell started this on the family dairy farm, mainly due to his love of machinery, "although, my dad did tell me I was off my head," he laughed.

Since then, he has built up the business, along with the help of his wife, Lorraine, who does all of the company’s books and assists Russell with the overall running of things.

Together, the pair has now secured a loyal customer base, which has grown over the years.

Originally known as the McGaw family – “it’s funny how people could just change their name back in the day,” Russell commented – the farm has been in their hands since 1856 and Russell hopes that will continue for years to come.

A day spent with the RG Contracting team informed us all about the business's operation, while Russell also gave us his opinion about the agricultural industry at the moment.

All questions were answered by Russell.

When was RG Contracting established?

I started out in 1994, at the age of 22. Low Drumskeog was originally a dairy farm, which I worked on with my dad. I was always very keen on machinery and I purchased a Reco Mengele 40 chopper and started doing a bit of silage locally. 
I did that until 1996 and that’s when I purchased my first self-propelled chopper, a Claas Jaguar 820. My dad told me I was off my head, particularly since he had to be the guarantor for it.
I worked away locally doing silage and then I did odd days spreading slurry with the farm tractor and slurry tanker and the work increased from there and we have slowly built up a customer base over the years.

Was there demand for a local contractor then?

Labour was becoming more difficult to get and then getting good labour was also hard going. 
Then, of course, there was the increasing cost of machinery – putting a lot of farmers off buying their own, and so, yes, there was a demand, and I think that was pretty common everywhere, at that time.

How many members of staff do you employ?

We employ 12 full-time staff, and then numbers go up to the mid-twenties during peak times. 
Most of our staff have been steady and long-term and they are very important to us.

Do you have any children?

I have two – David, who is 18, and works with us full-time, and Lucy, who is 16.
She is currently doing her Highers at school.

The Scottish Farmer:

The KRONE BigX 1770 chopping organic spring barley into a Smyth trailer, on the back of a John Deere 6145R. Driving the chopper was Euan Lochhead (Fuji) and on the tractor, Alan Ramsay

What is the main bulk of work that you do?

We do silage chopping, baling and slurry spreading, which is a huge part of what we do, because there are fewer dairy farms, but they are bigger in size and so the volume of slurry has increased. 
We also do anaerobic digestion plant work in Coupar Angus, Dundee and Perthshire, and that came about because one of the AD plants was growing energy beet and, at that time, we had one of only two self-propelled beet harvesters in Scotland and so they asked us to do their beet harvesting.
That then reached out to other AD plants and we took them on as well and we do that work from February to September. 
When we aren’t lifting beet up north, we are lifting it down here and that’s a winter job for us.

How do you feel about the change in dairy farms?

The increase in the size of dairy farms is good for us, in particular, because it tailors the workload and instead of being at a job for a day or two, you are at it for a week. 
However, we do also really appreciate the value of smaller farms and the amount of work that all farmers do, and we are fully committed to all of our customers, no matter what size their farm or business is.

The Scottish Farmer:

CLAAS TRIPLE mowers on a Fendt 828, cutting second cut silage for the Dourie Farming Company, with Colin Parker at the wheel

Best machine ever made?

Disc wholecrop headers, because compared to what we started with – a double knife output by Fortschritt – it just made such a difference and so much easier.

Worst machine ever made?

A Dowdeswell plough, because it lasted about a week before it was in bits.

The Scottish Farmer:

NEW HOLLAND T7.235, with a set of Lemken Rubin 9 discs on the back – employee driving was Jack Gaw

Favourite tractor?

A Case International 956 XL. It just didn’t break down and it kept going and going.

Dealerships used?

James Gordon, Whauphill; Llyods, Dumfries; J and S Montgomery, Stranraer; John McNae, Tarbolton and Shire Agri Hire, Glenluce.

The Scottish Farmer:

WHEAT BEING mixed with preservative ammonia pellets, which is then put into a pit and covered over. Employees operating this were uncle and nephew team, Dougie and Ryan McVitie

Are there any practices that have been of a great benefit to you?

We put plastic around the barrel of our bales, in the baler, instead of net. Some customers were initially sceptical about using the plastic, however, after they opened the bales in the winter, 100% of them have never gone back to using net. It keeps the bales a lot more compact, and really keeps the air out.

Thoughts on 2017’s weather?

Last year’s weather was wet and it was hard work. It seemed that it was only dry every single weekend and so the men hardly got any time off at all. There wasn’t a lot of wilting done and silage was lifted as soon as it was dry above head. 
It was so wet it was diabolical.

The Scottish Farmer:

DAVID HERRON breaking a knowe out with a Doosan 140 tracked digger, which will be covered in top soil, before the field will be ploughed and re-seeded

How does 2017’s weather compare to this year?

The crops this year have been in great condition, but they are low in volume because it has been so dry, but overall it has been far more manageable and therefore easier to plan ahead.
It’s also been a lot easier to give our staff a bit of space and time with their families this year because there hasn’t been as much pressure. 
That’s been great because our staff are so very important to us and we wouldn’t be what we are without them. They are all great and they really represent us.

Any concerns about the future of the industry?

A lot of people were worried about the straw shortage this year but hopefully that won’t be the case as people are managing to get it baled and its not being chopped as its coming out the back of the combine like last year. 
Really, staffing is going to be the big issue going forward. 
It’s going to become even harder to get staff who are willing to do 80+ hour per week during the busier spells and to get the staff who are skilled and capable. 
Farm workers, as a whole, are also becoming less common, and so the onus is on us to fill that gap. 
For example, we actually have some of our workers going to feed cattle at farms some days, just to help out a bit, because the workforce just isn’t there.

The Scottish Farmer:

MCHALE FUSION 3 baler, attached to a Claas 850, featuring the white plastic around the bale, which is used in place of net. RG Contracting produces just more than 10,000 silage bales per year. Employee driving: Andrew Kirk

And what about the future of RG Contracting?

Hopefully I’ll be able to retire someday (he laughs).
All going well, we will carry on as we are and hopefully David will want to continue on with the business.
This year is the first that we have been chopping rye for an AD plant, so that’s also an area we can expand in, which will hopefully continue to grow.

The Scottish Farmer:

A CLAAS 850, with a set of Lemken Rubin 12 discs on the back, working over stubble for grass seed. Employee driving: Duncan Skimming​