Winners Follow-up: Neil Dallyn, 2019 Contractor Innovator of the Year

If customer loyalty is one of the secrets to a successful business then Neil Dallyn has it in droves. Clemmie Gleeson speaks to Neil, our Contractor Innovator of the Year 2019 who was nominated for the award by one of his very happy customers.

Being named Contractor Innovator of the Year was a very welcome recognition for hard work, says West Sussex farmer and contractor Neil Dallyn. And one that
was made even more special thanks to one of his customers who put forward a nomination for his efforts.

“It was great to be shortlisted – and then to win was amazing,” recalls Neil.

“It is great for the team to get recognition for their hard work as they all put in a lot of hours.

“Several of our employees really go above and beyond and that is what makes us successful.”

Neil has worked on the family farm since he was 16 years old, apart from six months when he went to work on the potato harvest in America in 2001.

He says: “When I went to America it was good to see how other people worked. I returned to the farm with a drive to develop the contracting side of the business.”

The family had always farmed and offered contract services to other farmers, but Neil felt there was plenty of potential for furthercontracting work.

The family’s own farm totals 566 hectares (1,400 acres) which is predominantly grass for small bale horse hay and haylage plus 121ha (300 acres) of arable land. They also produce organic and conventional beef from two suckler herds and 90 ewes to manage, he says, the awkward bits of grass on the farm.

“Our staff work across the farming and contracting business at certain points of the year,” he says.

“The two businesses go hand-in-hand and work nicely.”


Neil remembers only too well the pivotal moment when he decided to invest in the farm’s second tractor.

“My Dad Stuart and uncle Martin were a key part of the business in those days and so I had to sell the idea to them and find finance for it.

“I didn’t realise it at the time but it was a good trial. I couldn’t just do it I had to consider the other partners and get them to vote on it.

“I had to budget, know the market and what needed doing. I’m a managing partner now and still plan things out in the same way, whether it’s in my head or on paper.”

Neil’s brother Michael is also a partner in the business, as is his father Stuart although he is now retired. Also heavily involved is Neil’s wife Rachael.

Neil says: “She is a tremendous support and listens to and discusses my ideas for the business as well as running the office.”

Their daughters Phoebe, 13, and Amelia, 11, also help out with the farm’s livestock.

“They all keep me on the straight and narrow and keep me pushing through the long tough days.”

In the early days of developing the contracting business it was particularly successful with its bale wrapping service.

Neil says: “It grew from there and we now have six tractors and there are seven of us working full-time and four part-time.

“We try and work within a 20-mile radius, but certain customers’ locations can take us up to 60 miles away.

“We call ourselves countryside contractors. As well as doing any farm contract work and estate maintenance, Michael focuses on the fencing and landscaping side. We can do anything from domestic to big estate fencing and landscaping.

“Every month is a busy month, but that is what has helped the business to grow.”

In recent years the growth of vineyards in the south has generated a lot of work for the business. Neil and his team began by helping to move the grapes and then in supporting the vineyards during harvest. It started with one and they now work for four vineyards.

“We do the groundwork and preparation ready for a team from Germany who do the planting. Some years it is as much as 100 acres,”  he says.

This new market has worked particularly well as it didn’t require investment in new machinery and the vineyard peak times don’t clash with farming’s peak times.


“Success is a happy customer and a happy team. I don’t think you can measure success financially.”

“The whole year fills up quite nicely which means that we are earning money every month.”

A new service added to the portfolio last year was direct drilling.

“A customer had a particular need  to reseed a lot of the farm with a disc drill so a meeting was had and a drill ordered and plenty of work followed.”

Also last year they added a new bale wrapper to one machine to save labour and keep costs down for customers.


Another investment for 2020 was a big square baler. The purchase will enable the business to have more control over baling as it was previously using other contractors for this service.

“It’s not always easy as British summers can be difficult.”

Offering a variety of services gives the business flexibility, and this is even more pertinent now as Covid-19 restrictions have made an impact on the business.

“We initially thought fencing and landscaping would pack-up and that we would transfer staff to farm work. However, because of the lockdown we have had a couple of big customers cancel work due to events being closed down.

“Our suppliers were not operating but now we have managed to get supplies and carry on with farm fencing work.

“At times I have wondered if we should become more specialised, but being broad really helps with situations like this.

“I was anticipating a 20 per cent reduction in our business, but because of the variety of services we offer, some parts of the business are actually busy. In the end we may suffer a 10 per cent reduction, or less but it is hard to say at this stage.”

When asked what one of the most rewarding areas of contracting is, Neil says it is the enjoyment of seeing a job well done.

“The most satisfying bit is beating the weather and working together as a team. Getting crops in on time and those other wins make it a nice job.


“We are very lucky to be working in a very picturesque area and every day can be different.”

Customer and employee satisfaction are also very important to him.

“Success is a happy customer and a happy team. I don’t think you can measure success financially. It doesn’t really mean anything.

“As I get older I no longer worry about the things I used to worry about and I am really enjoying seeing my daughters involved on the farm and the family working together.

Maintaining long-term partnerships with customers is key for Neil.

“I think that is why we keep our customers,” he explains.

“We see it as us supporting them and their business and we always make sure we can deliver.”

And it is these productive customer partnerships which are proving beneficial in more ways than one and contributed to his award win last year.

“When I read what my customer who had nominated us had written, I was really flattered and humbled.

“It was brilliant. It is really nice to get that thank you and hear how people feel about what you do. It was great to make it to the final but I couldn’t believe it when we were named as winners.”

As well as Rachael, Michael and his parents Stuart and Ruth, Neil was supported on the evening by employees and customers.

“The award really was for everyone who works for us and who we work for.

“I would definitely recommend others to enter as it is a makes you question what you are doing which is good for any business. It is a good process to go through whether you win or not.”