Drainage Contractor

Features Guest Column U.K. Update
U.K. Update: Lessons learned from success and failure

September 25, 2023  By Rob Burtonshaw

Field demonstrations, education sessions and social events at the recent International Drainage Symposium in Des Moines. All images courtesy of Rob Burtonshaw.

To keep with the theme, I thought I too would share a little history, and lucky for me we have some here as Farm Services Limited was founded in 1942 during what I imagine must have been dark and tricky times.

Britain had been at war for over three years and whilst in hindsight many of the major turning points had happened by that time, I doubt if it would have seemed like that for those present. Traditionally, all British companies have been formally incorporated and registered in London, but that was not the case for Farm Services Ltd. The incorporation certificate states the place as London but large Xs are typed over the name and Llandudno is written beside. I doubt if many reading this will know of Llandudno or even heard the name before. It is a small Welsh Town in the far west of the U.K., a location about as safe as it was possible to be during that time. As with much else, the department of business had been evacuated from the capital which was still being subjected to bombing raids by the Luftwaffe, so was operating out of a small country town rather than one of the world’s largest cities.

To begin with, Farm Services concentrated on general farm contracting. This presumably was the reason why in a command economy focused solely on war production it was allowed to start up. Britain was dependent on food imports, much of it from Canada, and anything that could be done to improve production at home was encouraged. Agriculture was one of the few industries which continued to operate. Once the war ended, Farm Services Ltd soon started to specialize in land drainage, once again the desire to reduce reliance on imports impacted the company’s future. Grants were made available to farmers wishing to invest in drainage, this impacted the company in two ways, first the original founders of Farm Services, the local miller and forester took the opportunity to focus solely on Land Drainage, and the government trained people to be drainage agents, one of whom was my grandfather. My grandfather served as a land drainage agent in North Warwickshire for a few years until he was asked to manage Farm Services. The lure of private industry, with better pay and prospects proved too tempting to refuse and he moved to south Warwickshire to take up the position. Slow over the next decades my grandfather then my Father built up a share holding in the company until it was solely owned by the father.

Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s the company thrived. Demand was strong and new technology allowed productively to increase at a steady rate. Government grants were still available and were generous, paying 50 percent of the final costs. Competition was fierce, but with plenty of work to go around these were golden days. Those would not last. Policies designed to increase production had been too successful, the new problem was over supply and the easy solution was to stop subsidizing production. Drainage grants were removed in the early 80s  and demand for drainage fell away quickly. At one point Warwickshire probably had more than 20 contractors of varying size operating before the grants, this would quickly be reduced to just three. To survive, Farm Services had to shrink in size, and diversify. The company started to drainage sportsfield and to work in construction as well as agriculture, being close to major cities such as Birmingham and Coventry suddenly became a help rather than a hindrance. By being nimble and adaptable my father, who had taken over running the company was able to keep going. 


Now the older schemes installed in the early years of grant aid are failing the need for replacing and agricultural work is once again on the rise, although not anywhere near to the level of the grant years. Now it is my turn to lead the company and it is clear that if the company’s history tells me anything, it is that external influences will have a great deal of influence on the company. Whether they be positive or negative there’re effect can be massive, and uncontrollable. However how we respond to them is, being flexible and adaptable means that Farm Services Ltd is still around today celebrating over eight one years of trading. Let’s hope we can follow that lesson and be around in another 81 years. DC

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