Drainage Contractor

U.K. Update: It’s better to be busy

November 19, 2021  By Rob Burtonshaw

Wow, we are busy.

Two wet winters, old drainage schemes failing and jobs which were delayed due to pandemic panic have resulted in a glut this year.

To be honest, if we are not busy straight after harvest then we might not be trading next year. But even so, this year has been exceptional. Slowly, interest and demand for land drainage has increased in the U.K. Who knows if this will last – but right now, soils are in fashion and our order book is full. We have in the past turned away work, but I have never previously turned away good, large profitable work because we simply can’t fit it all in.

Like most contractors we have a short season: fields are normally harvested in late July or early August and by mid-October the weather is turning. Rain starts to fall and most soils which need draining are too wet to travel on. I love the simplicity of the post-harvest rush. There is no time for planning or tackling those thorny long-term problems. The marketing strategy can wait, so too can new plant purchases and those awkward repairs which are a pain but you can live with. The cold, wet months of winter can be filled with those tasks, but right now the focus is on putting pipe in the ground quickly (and accurately), double-checking the plans and the levels, making sure everything is right. I’m always amazed about how much time can be lost waiting for the last load of gravel or checking the grade after making alterations to the proposal plan. And the same is true with a team which knows the job and works well together. The extra two or three hundred metres each day that a team working well can produce soon adds up and makes a massive difference to the bottom line. Keeping staff happy and motivated is key. 


Now, to almost contradict what I have just written: we had the August bank holiday off. The bank holiday is traditionally a time for British summer holiday, normally marked by traffic jams and bad weather. We had the whole weekend and Monday off work. It may sound muddled, and the argument to work through the holiday is compelling but experience tells us not to. We had all worked long hours in the summer, and fall would bring more of the same. We have already worked many weekends. This is not a one hundred-metre sprint, but a middle-distance race. And we need to finish strong.

Working flat-out for one month won’t get the job done. We have learned from experience that working week after week and through the weekends and holidays without any breaks results in less productivity, less profit and less total metres in the ground. At first glance working less and having holidays may sound soft but really is cold hearted logic, a pause now will be good for the bottom line not bad. An extra two or three hundred metres each day quickly adds up to more than an extra days production. People need time to forget about work and spend time with their families – I certainly do. People want to be considered and work better when they are there, taking the holiday is good for everyone. 

The excitement of post-harvest work is strong at the moment, as you can probably tell from this column, but the pattern of the year will also dominate. By the end of the season it will turn wet and cold, production will fall and jobs will become harder, naturally our enthusiasm will wane. Then the ground will be too wet and the work will run dry, this change will be greeted will relief and finally some of those jobs which have been put off will have a chance to be sorted out. Come January and February we will be looking back fondly at the time we were previously glad to see the back off. The changing of the seasons is a wonderful thing.

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