Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Quality staff at centre of successful contractors

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Family contractors JH Duffin & Sons offer a comprehensive service in Leicestershire. Simon Wragg reports.

Reliable, personable staff are the forefront of Paul Duffin’s 1750ha (4320 acres) Leicestershire-based contract farming operation – the foundation for an established contracting business which has expanded into groundworks and farm and estate maintenance.

Based at Wymondham, near Melton Mowbray, JH Duffin & Sons (Contractors) employs 10 full-time staff. “One reason we’ve developed winter work such as hedge-cutting and planting, fencing and groundworks is to retain casuals who showed aptitude and potential,” explains Mr Duffin.

“Having competent staff going on to farms and estates who become familiar faces is key to retaining customers. It helps build trust and is a big factor in getting repeat business.”

The family-run business undertakes all arable operations and has recently secured EU Leader funding to reduce the use of inputs such as fertiliser and chemicals.

“We run an Amazone Pantera 30m self-propelled sprayer operated by Michael Pratt – our principle machinery operator and fabricator – which has single nozzle shut off capability.

“It can cut chemical use by 5% adding to a 4% savings we’d achieved for customers with its predecessor using sectional shut off,” explains Mr Duffin. The business’ fertiliser spreader also uses sectional shut off to avoid overlaps.

Accuracy of almost all in-field operations is aided by use of a RTK base station and GPS monitoring. This is overseen by Mr Duffin’s son, Liam – one of seven family members in the business.

He explains: “Our system is set up so everyone uses the same field boundaries and guidance tracks for all in-field work.

“We’re using Generation Four screens in our fleet of John Deeres and await new software from the manufacturer to allow data to transfer seamlessly into Gatekeeper (software) to update field records.”

Fleet of machines

With spring planting approaching, the business can draw on a fleet of cultivators and drills to suit a range of arable conditions.

Mr Duffin explains: “We have a new John Deere 750A drill, Claydon min-till drill, Vaderstad Rapid, Kuhn Megant and a cover crop drill. The John Deere drill gives us the opportunity to reduce soil disturbance and, therefore, blackgrass emergence.

“Joshua, one of my sons, drills rape with a purpose-built OSR drill to reduce soil moisture loss – a real issue in a dry autumn like 2018.”

Two tracked CAT Challengers driven by Joshua and colleague Steve Knight are used for cultivations or drilling to minimise compaction. Either unit can be swapped for a high powered John Deere R-series tractor to suit field conditions.

Despite a focus on min-till across most arable acres, Kverneland ploughs are still used for rotational ploughing or preparing maize ground for livestock farmers in spring.

The company’s Stephen Hopcroft is the main ploughman but like all staff moves roles as a season progresses. Mark Lee is principle hedgecutter – using a 7.5m reach Shelbourne Reynolds – before moving on to fertiliser spreading, round baling silage and combining.

One growth area is the spreading of farmyard manure, pig manure, poultry litter and AD-plant digestate across arable acres.

Key roles

“Dan Duffin – a cousin’s son – heads the team with Tom Riley and summer staff co-ordinating four Bunning spreaders. One of these is usually available to hire to customers using their own tractor and driver.”

Other family members play key roles too.

Mr Duffin’s wife, Louise, undertakes key admin whilst also working as a chartered surveyor. And his eldest daughter, Kim, has a pivotal role during harvest recording grain entering store and taking samples. Only crop agronomy is farmed out to third parties.

“At harvest we run a New Holland CR9.80 rotary combine across most of the contract farmed area where we can cope with its higher output. A CX8090 straw-walker combine goes out to farms where we help with harvesting.”

The company has access to weighbridge facilities and storage for 3500t of grain at its base and a further 5000t out on contracted farms. “We market some grain ourselves and some through pools – the latter taking pressure off the farmer/contractor relationship.”

Estate work

Construction of tracks, building bases and drainage work see another son, Michael, operating a 13t JCB excavator. More recently this has been coupled to an FAE mulching head for clearing mature scrubland for farming, estate and council customers.

“As an example, we’ve opened up rides through estate woodland you could barely get a quad bike down despite being 20m wide originally,” explains Mr Duffin who also runs a trusty JCB 3CX.

A smaller 6t excavator is operated by Joshua for precision roles such as digging foundations in tighter areas and finishing site works. When required Tom assists operating the laser level, vibrating roller and dumper between arable duties.

Other complimentary services include farm and estate fencing undertaken principally by Dan and assisted by Greg Walters. This can be done back-to-back with the planting of whips to rejuvenate or replace hedgerows.

The range of work undertaken by the firm is testament to the drive to be a one-stop shop for customers’ needs.

“We’ve gone from being a fire-fighting outfit – call us when you need us – to offering all-year-round support and services. Retaining good staff all year round has been a big part of that,” he concludes.

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