As we stand on the threshold of our forty-fifth year in the industry of agriculture, a milestone that holds immense significance for A.R. Richards Ltd, I find myself in a unique position. I’ve had the privilege of conversing with the director, Anthony Raymond Richards, but never for a project as special as this. Having been part of the marketing team for eight months, I was inspired to embark on a unique endeavour for our forty-fifth year, to do something different that this business hasn’t partaken in before. So, I decided to talk with Anthony, who started it all with a casual chat, learn how different this world is now compared to 1980, and learn more about him and his life’s work.

Tony & Alyn Richards

Anthony & Alyn Richards

Anthony, fondly known as Tony, along with his wife, Sheilagh, and father, Alyn, laid the foundation of A.R. Richards Ltd in 1980, marking the beginning of the Agricultural Contracting era for the Richards family. Over the past 45 years, their business has grown exponentially, surpassing their wildest dreams. In the last five years alone, they have witnessed remarkable growth, both in terms of their fleet of vehicles and overall employment size, a testament to their hard work and dedication.

The decision to have this conversation with Tony was planned, but only myself and his children were aware of it. It was a spontaneous idea that I decided to act upon quickly with their approval. His children, Sam and Andrew, encouraged me to visit the Hollies and start a conversation with him, and that’s exactly what I did. The nerves were palpable, but I managed to keep them under control.

I called Tony, said I was popping around to the yard, and asked if he would be on-site to chat. Unfortunately, he was, so I had to bite the bullet and build my courage to talk.

Arriving at the Yard, I briefly saw Andrew before chatting with Tony. Andrew smiled and wished me luck, chuckling as I walked away, my bag filled with photos from the 1980s. Tony was sitting at the table, reviewing job completion forms, and smiled upon seeing me. We exchanged pleasant hellos, and my nerves hit me.

I explained that I was there to get to know him and mentioned that it had been forty-five years in the industry, and Tony said,

“I never even realised it had been that long,”

Tony & Sheilagh Richards

Anthony & Sheilagh Richards

It was clear to me immediately that he enjoyed his job; it was his life. Not realising how quickly time had gone since he started this venture shows a clear dedication to the business he’s cultivated over the years. That made me smile.

We sat down. I pulled out all the photos and allowed him to spread them over the table. After observing him for a few moments, I saw a smile appear, remembering some of the good times. Which is when I started with the questions.

What’s your first memory of working in Agriculture?

Tony Richards Agriculture

Anthony Richards in one of our tractors in the 1980s

Tony Richards Tractor - Early 1980s 4

Another one of our tractors and trailers from the 1980s

Tony looked at me and sat back, thinking about the past.

Well, I started when I was thirteen or fourteen. I’d get up in the morning to work on the farms around here,” Tony gestured around the building; for those that don’t know, The Hollies is near Adderley. “I’d go to school, and then after get back on the farm,” Tony chuckled, “I remember being shown by a family friend what to do on the tractor. He’d taught me how to use the forage harvester, and after I did my first line, he left me to it. I didn’t even realise,” Tony laughed and pretended to look around, acting like he would have done back then, “he just left me to it, back then you had to learn from your mistakes quickly, and we certainly didn’t have the technology back then like we do now,” Tony added. At this point, I smiled and remembered what I’d been briefly shown on one of our John Deere tractors.

“Yes, from what I understand, it’s all automated, isn’t it? You press a few buttons, and the tractor knows the distance and where to turn,” I explained from what I had learned from a colleague not long after starting here.

“How could you tell if you were going in a straight line or not?” I asked. Tony chuckled again and looked at me with a smile, moving his arm straight before him. He explained two ways.

“You’d pick out a tree or a certain part of a bush and keep that central to a point on your tractor; that was the only way you’d do that if you were on your own. Otherwise, someone would be at the end of the field with a signal post. Maybe a flag to help you stay lined up.” Tony laughed, at that point, a colleague came by and confirmed that method, talking about a time they did that in the early 2000s. Tony couldn’t help but laugh at the story. There was one man in the tractor, and then a colleague at either end of the field was holding flags to be the central point. Comparing tractors now to back then, a lot of the work is now automated, Tony had joked saying, “If you know how to press buttons, you can do this job now,” Tony laughed and folded his arms, sitting back and relaxing into the conversation.

What are some of your fondest or funniest memories?

Tony took a moment to think about this one, but he smiled and laughed again, “I don’t really have one in particular; everything has been great; a lot of the staff I work with have been funny to work with.” Tony explained clearly. Again, showing that he loved the work and this job.

What advice would you give to a young farmer?

Enjoy the work you do,” Tony quickly answered, “To be in this industry, you have to enjoy the work; there’s a lot to it. So, you have to enjoy it; otherwise, you won’t be able to hack it,” Tony understands the dedication needed for this job; the clear and concise answer shows that to me.

If you could go back in time and start again, would you change anything?

Tony thought momentarily with this one, obviously thinking about certain parts of his life that I didn’t know, but he still smiled and looked at the photos. Thinking about the past.

No, I wouldn’t change anything,” Tony finally answered after a long pause,

“Nothing at all?” I double checked, Tony shook his head at that point,

I’d do everything the same as I did up to now,” Tony answered proudly.

What’s been the hardest thing about running such a dynamic, multifaceted business like this?

“Finding people who know the avenue of business I don’t, and having to rely on them. It’s hard to find people who can lead those avenues to prosper. It takes a lot of trust and dedication to allow others to handle things you don’t have the time to manage.” Tony explained I understood that. Leaving people to look after your life’s work can be daunting, but most department managers have been here for over five years, showing that trust and friendship have been built over the years between the Richards family and each team member. Even one of his grandchildren is a manager of a department – Euro Bin’s Manager, Chloe Richards.

Some of the current ARR Team

A group photo of some of the A.R. Richards team, taken Dec 2023

What’s your proudest achievement to date?

Tony wore a lovely big smile for this question as he looked at one photo in particular,

“Bringing my family into the business.” Tony answered proudly, “We’ve had our ups and downs, as all families do, and bringing your family into a business isn’t easy. But we’ve worked through all the problems, and we’re coming out well,” Tony explained; he was definitely a proud dad and granddad.

Massey Ferguson Tractor 595

Massey Ferguson Tractor 595

While talking to Tony about all these questions and the world of agriculture, I saw a humble man who was proud of his work and what he had built. He answered everything we spoke about with pride and a smile on his face. As he looked at the photos, which were now strewn across the table, he recalled some of the vehicles in the photos.

“This was the first tractor we bought from a friend,” Tony pushed the picture towards me. I recognised this tractor from my research and looking at all the photos before talking to him,

“It’s the Massey Furgeson, isn’t it? Is that why we’ve got red vehicles in our lorries and bin waggons fleet?” I questioned curiously. Tony glanced at me and just smiled subtly, confirming a ‘yes’ in my mind.

We looked at photos of another red tractor from the late 70s, one of Tony and Alyn’s earliest jobs in Agricultural Contracting. We spoke about the size differences between tractors back then and what they are now.

Tony working a field

One of the earliest jobs in agriculture

“Before, you’d be doing five-acre jobs; nowadays, you’re covering over twenty,” Tony explained, for context, five acres are just under four football fields. Tony talked about how the work was less but completed at the same time it took to do a larger job now because of technology.

We also briefly spoke about Clarkson’s Farm; the mention of this show made Tony laugh loudly, admitting he’d seen some of it. I questioned the use of the moisture meter and how they used it to test whether a grain was ready for harvest. Tony explained how depending on the grain, they would take it out of the husk by rubbing their hands together – which he did the action, showing the technique. Tony then showed that they’d either squash it with their nail or they’d bite it in their mouth. Depending on the hardness depended on whether it was ready. It would be something learned over time; I compared it in my mind to wine tasting; a sommelier can sniff and sip a wine and then tell you roughly where it came from, the fruits and flavours within the wine! A skill that is incredibly difficult to master!

West Keys 1st Hymac Digger 3

Hymac Plant Excavator

We then went back to the photos on the table, and we spoke about some of the vehicles shown in the photos; a lot of the business started off with used tractors or trailers. The first excavator was also second-hand, the Hymac; he recalled using that with one of his old colleagues; this particular colleague obviously meant a lot to him as he spoke about them with a changed tone of voice, a happy one. Again, hearing him talk about colleagues like old friends made me smile.

Then, the conversation rounded off with talking about pets as one of Andrew’s dogs came charging into the office; Tony spoke fondly about his dogs, Ben and Oscar. Me, being a huge dog person myself, enquired about each dog.

Oscar was a cocker spaniel and an intelligent one by the sounds of it.

“I would take Oscar to the quarry with me, and he’d get out and just run about, sticking close by,” Tony explained, “though on occasion, he’d run off without me realising until I was going home in the truck. At that point, I’d return to the quarry and find him sitting by the gate, waiting for me. Though on the odd occasion, I’d drive by the police station to get to the quarry, and he’d be sat outside. I always knew that if he’d disappeared, those two places would be guaranteed locations for Oscar.” Tony chuckled and thought about Oscar with a smile.

I then enquired about Ben, which made Tony pause for a moment. I mentioned that I had been told he was a border collie and that our head office at Warrant Road was named after him, Bensite. Tony smiled sadly at that point; Ben obviously still held someplace in his heart. We discussed his love for excavators and that he’d bark wildly seeing one. Ben’s excitement around the vehicle was obvious to all. Ben meant a lot to the Richards family, to my understanding, it was why they named the old Greenvale site ‘Bensite’ after it was finally opened to be the Waste Management facility it is now.

Ben the Border Collie

Ben the Border Collie.

Overall, I found it a joy, and the two hours I spent talking to Tony about his life and a little bit about A.R. Richards showed me a lot about his personality and dedication to his work and family. Tony is a humble man dedicated to providing quality services; he admitted that A.R. Richards isn’t the cheapest, but they’ll always do the best work. To this day, Tony still helps out in the yard, occasionally spending some time on the diggers and, on other days, sitting and dealing with the paperwork he pointed out on his desk. Tony still helps run the business, even past retirement age, because he’s still completely dedicated to his job. But for Tony, this isn’t a job, it’s his life, and I think that’s what makes him so special.

We’re forty-five years gone, five more to go until the big five-O.

We’ve got a lot planned for the future, and we can’t wait to share it with you all.