AT the age of 18, Stevie Brown, who hails from Alford, Aberdeenshire, established his own agricultural contracting business, and over the last 14 years, he has managed to build up a strong and loyal customer base, as well as an impressive machinery fleet, which is built on the back of Fendt and John Deere tractors. 
The business, known as A and S Brown – a name set up in memory and dedication to Stevie’s late brother, Alistair – initially specialised in agricultural work only, but since dad, Gary, became heavily involved in the business, the Browns now offer a groundwork service, which includes drainage work, demolition and construction site work. 
Stevie started out with a 10tonne Bunning muck spreader from HRN, and got work with it through the machinery ring and hired it out to local farmers. He then bought a second-hand New Holland TM150 tractor from Ravenhill, and it got his foot in the door in the contracting industry.  
Nowadays, the business employs more than 10 full-time staff, and on the agricultural side, it is sowing that is the team’s biggest operation. 
Stevie and his wife, Charlotte, who he has three children with; Archie (5), Emmie (2) and Brodie (four-months-old), are based at Greystone Farm, Alford, where they’ve just recently established a horse livery business.

The Scottish Farmer:

Fendt and John Deere make up the fleet at A and S Brown 

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?

We work in a 35 to 40-mile radius and our main line of work is sowing, spraying, baling, wrapping silage and harvesting. Sowing is our biggest operation and each year, we sow roughly 4000 acres between spring and winter crops, then spray roughly 8000 to 10,000 acres of crops. Come the end of May/into June, silage kicks off and usually we bale and wrap around 15,000 bales, depending on the year. We do combining, too, and cut around 2000 acres per year, if the weather is good to us. 
The construction/plant and civil side of the business also keeps us busy throughout the year. We currently have 12 men working on the new Aberdeen bypass and we do a lot of energy related work with the likes of Highland Eco. Some of those jobs take us as far south as Dumfries. 
Other jobs which keep us busy during quieter times include digestate spreading, snow scraping and gritting in Alford and surrounding areas. We also do drainage work in the winter for farmers and it’s good to get a bit of maintenance done on our own machines. I also do a lot of work on the digger during quieter times and then there’s lambing and calving to contend with. 
The only time our tractors stop is Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. I don’t like seeing tractors parked up doing nothing. 

How brand loyal are you?

We’ve had Fendts since 2006 – you can’t beat them for driver comfort and build quality. John Deeres are also a favourite and that’s due to their reliability and the great back-up service we receive from HRN Tractors. McHale has been here since the very start; their build quality is second to none so they can handle difficult conditions in fields. 
We’re also very pleased with our Hyundai and New Holland diggers. 
Drill wise, we’ve used Kuhn in the past but we are very pleased with our two current drills – the Lemken and the Amazone. 
We’ve had demos of various types of trailed drills, and I would like to go down the trailed drill route as it’s much easier for hitching on and off, but the soil conditions we sow in vary from clay to stony steep ground, so the power harrow is needed. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Dealerships used?

Ross Agri, HRN Tractors, AM Phillip, Sellars, Balgownie and Ravenhill. 

How long are machines kept for?

All of our tractors do at least 10,000 hours. I’d like to change them often but it just doesn’t add up. 
Other machinery, including combines, is kept depending on reliability, how much work they’re doing and running costs. 
We mainly buy machines as new or tidy second-hand but only if I know the previous owner. 

Favourite tractor?

I have two favourites – the Fendt 818 and the John Deere 6930. The Fendt did 14,000 hours and didn’t give us too much hassle. It was a great machine. So is the current John Deere as it’s currently got 11,000 hours on the clock and hasn’t cost us a lot to run.
Any machine that’s German is well engineered and strong. 

The Scottish Farmer:

IF there’s a good harvest weather window, the team can combine 2000 acres per year 

Least favourite tractor?

We had a New Holland T7.260 – it had major gearbox problems. Ravenhill were 100% behind us and we couldn’t fault their service, but the tractor didn’t even last one year with us. 

Favourite and least favourite jobs?

My favourite job is getting up on a spring morning and checking the cows and sheep on the quad bike with my wife and kids.
I enjoy sowing and spraying. I’ve sown crops since I was 14 years of age and had good tuition from a nearby contractor. I actually thrive when I’m under pressure – I like the pressure of not knowing what crops will be like when they come through the ground. In the spring, you can easy do 2000 acres sowing in two weeks between two drills, but that requires 18-20 hour days. I usually start sowing at 4am and I’m not back in until 12am. 
It’s good jumping onto a digger from time to time, too. 
Wrapping silage bales gets very tedious – especially when you’re still in the field at 2am. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Each year 4000 acres of cereals is sown with the Lemken 6m and Amazone 4m drills 

Newest and oldest piece of kit?

Our newest machines are the Abbey slurry tanker, which we also use for digestate and for shifting water in quarries. The new John Deere 6195R also came home in March, as well as a New Holland digger and McHale V660 baler. 
The oldest machine is the original Bunning muck spreader and the first digger – a 14ft Hyundai slew. I’m not into keeping old machines, I just want to get the money out of it. If a machine is still paying we keep it, but if not, it goes down the road. 

The Scottish Farmer:

McHale is a favourite brand when it comes to grass equipment 


Possibly a McHale Fusion 3 Plus, however, a lot of our customers prefer the bales to be wrapped and stacked so getting them switched to a Fusion would be difficult, but a lot easier for us and half the man time. 
I’d also like to go onto triple mowers but we can’t really justify that at the moment as we can manage ok to do what we require with the front and back mowers. The beauty of the Kuhn mowers is that they can be hooked onto any tractor, whereas triple mowers would tie up the big tractor for the season. 

How has recent weather had an impact on your business?

The drought has affected the yields and tonnes of both grain and silage this year but having a good, dry spell has allowed us to plan the workload better. On a typical year, you usually drive a fair distance to do a job and as soon as you get into the field it starts raining, so you’ve to head somewhere else. It usually takes about 10 phone calls to organise a job when you’re working around the weather. 

What struggles come with contracting?
The rising cost of machinery and the weather are obvious ones. I don’t think the agricultural industry is keeping up with other industries or the trades because input costs are continually rising but farmers aren’t getting any more for their end product. We’re left with no option but to increase our contracting prices because input costs only ever increase, and machines are hard worked. It’s a catch-22 though, until customers receive more at the end of the day, they won’t want us to put our prices up. 
Mobile phones are too handy – people phone you for any excuse but we couldn’t live without them, though. 

What advice would you give to a new contractor?
Go for it and don’t be feart to take a chance. Be loyal and don’t lie – farmers find out everything – and remember, if you buy cheap, you buy twice. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Stevie with full-time employees, Phyllis Mavor and Andy Whyte

We employ between 12 and 14 staff, but the bulk of agricultural work is carried out between three of the staff. We are very lucky with the workforce we have, they’re incredibly dedicated to our business and we wouldn’t be able to operate without them. We all get on well and have a bit of banter on the way. We’re lucky that some of our construction boys can jump onto a tractor or vice-versa, if we’re pushed. Casuals are brought in during busier periods.