The latest in the series for our Contractor’s Yard is the well-known, family – Drew, John and Jeannie Watson, based at Byeloch Farm, Mouswald in Dumfries and Galloway.

The family operate one of the largest agricultural contracting businesses in the area, owing to their hard work and determination ensuring ‘everyone is kept satisfied’. Drew started the business in 1959. In 1967 he married Jeanie and she took a strong, steadying interest in the business, making sure that everything was ship-shape, by taking on the accounts and admin.

Today, third partner in the busy business is Drew’s son John, who is involved in the management and administration, trying to satisfy both agricultural and amenity clients, which he admits is never an easy task!

Drew is passionate about machinery and moving into contracting was a natural progression. Inspired by his grandfather at a very young age, when he worked on a farm surrounded by machinery. From then on, he followed his dreams and set up his own business to do something he genuinely loved doing every day.

The Byeloch team is very customer orientated and would never see anyone stuck, their mission is to, where possible, keep everyone happy and to ensure that customers return time after time by getting the job done no matter what. Given they are based in a heavy livestock area, harvesting grass is one of their main tasks, but they have a long list of other work they do throughout the year, they never seem to stop…!

The Scottish Farmer:

One of the Bateman RB35s the Watsons operate

What areas do you cover?

We cover a 100-mile radius and aren’t shy of using a haulage contractor to transport machinery, however, 90% of our work is fairly local working between Stranraer, Ayr, St Boswells and Aspatria. “We have never said no to a job due to distance and within reason we will happily take anyone on board,” said Drew.

What changes have you seen over the years?

“The price of machinery is the biggest change. It is becoming challenging with everything increasing at a rate of knots and we need to be able to cover our costs, however, we are dealing with an industry which is price dictated and have to try and balance the charges with the costs!” said Drew.

John added: “Health and safety has been heavily enforced over recent years, we are having to be accredited for so many different jobs both within and outside of agriculture, this is another extra expense for us and very time consuming. It appears more and more the way the industry is moving. Technology has also come a long way, we offer yield mapping with both the grass and grain harvest, one of our umbilical systems has a harvest lab 3000 measuring the constituents of the slurry and linking into field records for precision farming.

The Scottish Farmer:

Two of the Lexion combines at work near Glencaple 

What keeps you busiest throughout the year?

We are busy all year round, but like most contractors, we are busiest from the start of the summer onwards between baling, multiple cut silages, ploughing, winter crops and everything in between. “Silage is probably the biggest thing for us as a lot of farms are now on multi-cut systems, however, as soon as the first blade of grass is lifted in the season we have teams straight on behind with umbilical systems emptying stores in between cuts, which then leads onto slurry store mixing etc. A lot going on at the same time!” said John.

Favourite and least favourite jobs?

All jobs need to be done, but I do enjoy combining and spraying said Drew.

How important are your staff to the business?

They make the business for us, and we are very grateful for everything they do. We have a low turnover of staff and they all work hard for us. We have 18 full-time employees, with some being self-employed, but during summer we get a lot of extra staff and sub-contractors to help us through our manic times, it is a full-time job shuffling operations and operators!

“We try to keep them happy and try to give them the tractors they prefer to drive, rather than everyone having the same make / model. They help the business to be what it is and are a huge part of it, if we look after them, they’ll look after us,” said John.

The Scottish Farmer:

Almost all of the wholecrop is cut using Class Jaguars with Class direct disc headers

How often do you change your tractors?

“We replace our tractors every three to four years, they clock up too many hours to keep them for long periods of time. Tractor hours range between 1200 and 3500 per annum with an average of about 2000. We would ideally change them every two years, but it is just such an expense to the business that we can’t afford to keep to that all of the time, we are currently looking at long term rolling options,” said Drew.

What dealerships do you use?

We work very closely with our local dealers and thank them for their continued support! Our main dealerships consist of Gordons, Lloyds, Johnston Tractors, Southern Tractors, Cornthwaites, Scot JCB and R C Dalgliesh. A lot of specialised machinery comes from further afield.

What’s the impact of weather on your contracting business?

Weather brings lots of problems! You can’t forecast it too accurately in our area, customers rely too much on the forecast and it is quite often wrong, which brings us difficulties due to clients holding off on their planned work. This can then lead to the task being carried out too early or too late, giving a lower quality of produce than it would have had the weather forecast had not been wrong. Again, you just need to use some common sense and go with your instincts. This doesn’t just affect harvest time we have the same discrepancies with gritting and snow clearing also.

The Scottish Farmer:

Maize is drilled under film using both four and six row Samco drills

What struggles come with contracting?

“As I say, weather is one the biggest problem. Customers panicking … they have to have faith in us for it to work. We often work with other contractors to ensure that we get all our work done and keep our customers happy, we are happy to work with anyone who will work alongside us. At one point last year, we had six foragers working along with all the balers and five combines to get crops cleared before the next change in weather. We also have to take each job case by case in difficult weather periods,” said Drew.

Last year as an example, we had to move combines around to crop which had the potential to be wasted as it had been burnt off with Roundup for a long period of time and shedding onto the ground while others was just beginning to ripen.

“We will try to never see a customer miss a job! We ensure everyone is getting the work done, even if we need to hire more equipment that day to accommodate them. We just work away quietly and It will always work out in the end” said John.

The Scottish Farmer:

One of the Watson's four silage teams at work on a customer's first cut of many using a multi-cut system

What advice would you give to new contractors?

Think twice and be business like. In this trade, it is crucial to be sensible! Don’t go charging silly rates farmers won’t pay, but make sure that you cover your costs. Plus, you need to be able to keep customers happy to ensure their returned custom.

How are you future proofing your business?

Becoming more efficient. Whilst more work comes to us, the most important part for us is to hold on to customers. They are always our number one priority and we try to satisfy everyone. We have to keep moving with the times, kit keeps evolving along with the technology. Last season we had a few customers ask about train wheels for consolidating silage clamps so we introduced a set to the harvesting fleet. We are using computer software and apps more and more for things like customer and crop management as well vehicle tracking and safety checks.

On the staff side, we also like to keep everyone happy. Quite often, people come to us looking for a job and we are always looking for good, keen operators.

We have a slight variation in work from covering all areas of agriculture to amenity works, e.g. servicing diggers with dump trailers, winter gritting and snow clearing over a large area. Along with this we also manage biogas operations. We don’t really say no to a job if we can turn it around efficiently and safely. We have the ability to cover whole farm contracting offering all services, and also have the ability to produce forage crops from 3mm chop with two foragers to over 40mm chop with the wagon.

The Scottish Farmer:

Transpread Umbilical uses JD Harvest Lab 3000 to monitor the value of applied slurry 

Any concerns about the future of the industry?

The one word you don’t want to hear… “Brexit”! It has caused great uncertainty among farming and puts a lot of pressure on to contractors. If we do leave the EU it may mean we need to pay additional tariffs on certain machinery and parts, which will be another unwelcome additional expense. All said, we believe there will always be a future for the industry. We enjoy doing what we do, a few people comment to John over the summer that they would not want his job, but John says he lives for a challenge - If life was simple it would be boring!


• Variety of tractors including Valtra, John Deere, New Holland, Claas and Massey Ferguson.

• Loading equipment – all JCB

• Fertiliser spreader, Grain drills, tillage- Amazone

• Sprayers X 2– both Bateman RB35 for pesticides and liquid fertiliser

• Foragers x 4 – Class 870, 950, 970 and JD 8600i

• Forage equipment for four full teams mainly by Claas, Pottinger, Lely, Allbutt and Broughan

• Forage wagon - Pottinger

• Square balers X 2 - 80x90 New Holland and Massey Ferguson

• Square wrappers X 2 - McHale

• Balers X 3 – McHale including Fusion 3 Plus with net replacement film

• Slurry systems X 4 – Tramspread and Slurrykat

• Slurry Mixing - X2 shed pump mixers, X1 Storth Contractor Lagoon pump mixer, X 1- 6.5 m Brand over the top tower mixer.

• Combines x 4 - Claas

• Straw Processor / Hammer mill X 2 – Teagle C12 and Haybuster

• Feed wagons X 4 – Kverneland and Strautmann

• Plastic maize X3 SAMCO drills

• Maize headers X 2 Claas

• Beet Drill and Thyregod beet harvesters

• Dump trailers

• Full range of cultivation, direct drill, hedge cutters, saw blade hedge cutters, muck spreaders both rear and side discharge, gritters and snow ploughs. Etc.

The Scottish Farmer:

One pass drilling reduces compaction 

All photos credited to AML AIR DUMFRIES