For a quarter of respondents (25%) to a survey conducted by a rural insurance company, they said the reason for going into contracting was to get a step on the farming ladder.

Four in 10 respondents (40%) to a survey said supporting farm income was the main driver for providing agri-contracting services.

Charlie Yorke, agri-contracting and technology specialist at NFU Mutual, said:

There has been considerable growth in the agricultural contracting sector over the last few years. With the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and as farmers look to new ways to operate in the future, contracting is only going to grow in its importance.

"Our latest survey provides clear evidence that contracting now provides a crucial contribution to many farm incomes in today’s highly-competitive marketplace.

"The growth in contracting also makes it possible for modern, high-tech equipment to be used to get time-sensitive jobs done safely and efficiently."

'Contracting as a route into agriculture'

Yorke continued: "In an era where many farms struggle to support the younger generation, our research found a quarter of respondents saw contracting as a route into agriculture.

"Contracting is not only providing an opportunity for young farmers to plough their own furrow in the industry but also gives entirely new entrants a chance to start a farming career."

Almost a fifth of survey respondents (18%) said contracting offered a way to develop expertise in a chosen field, while 17% said it offered a way to invest in modern farm machinery.

NFU Mutual research conducted earlier in 2020 found the vast majority of farmers (60%) employed some form of contractor, although the insurer says the figure is probably far greater when all services carried out by contractors are taken into account.

Yorke explained:

As well as having strength in the crop support and maintenance sector, agricultural contracting spans a wide range of livestock and land management services which are vital to the industry.

"As farm support changes to a system based on enhancing the environment, we also think it’s likely that contractors will play an increasingly important role in providing services and skills to enable farmers to qualify for payments," he concluded.