There are many aspects of the agricultural industry that need to be addressed on a regular basis with safety being a major concern at the moment.
Clare based agricultural contractor Shane Nolan is the secretary of the Western Division of the Farm Contractors of Ireland (FCI) and through this role, he has been involved in the Farm Safety Partnership which is an initiative that consists of organisations representing a broad spectrum of agricultural interests, including the large farming membership organisations; auctioneers; training providers; farming press; and machinery dealers.
“We discuss how to co-ordinate activities to increase safety awareness, whilst tailoring delivery to engage farmers in specific sectors in the most appropriate way. Organisations involved in the Partnership are encouraged to develop unique and complimentary ways to engage with farmers, their workers and other people who may have an influence on farm safety. Throughout our work, the aim is for the message to remain constant and to work together towards a safer industry,” said Shane.
The aims of the partnership are to provide leadership to improve the safety of farms and allied industries and to reduce the numbers of deaths and major injuries to farmers, workers and anyone else coming into contact with farming activities.
“A study has revealed that the majority of accidents occurring on farms are to people over 65 years of age. This is something that needs to be addressed the right way. There is no point in a guy in a suit going out to a farm and trying to tell a farmer to do something differently. That just won’t work. Instead you have to talk to that person and try to advise them. That is why someone who has worked on a farm would be best suited to talk to them.
“We met with a Swedish professor in the Oireachtas a couple of weeks ago to discuss about farm safety. In Sweden, they carried out a mentor programme where farmers would go to other farms and advise fellow farmers on what would be the best practice to follow and they reduced the farm deaths during that period of five years to zero. Something like that needs to be done in Ireland before we have any more deaths.”
The FCI had to battle hard after contractors’ machinery was targeted for testing, but they were successful in their quest on this occasion.
Shane has operated a contracting business for many years now and the experience he has gathered over that time has been invaluable and allowed him to provide the best service possible to his customers.
“I started off small myself. The first piece of equipment I bought was a baler and I used my father’s tractor. I added a bit each year and built the fleet up gradually. In 19 years, I have only ever bought two new tractors – one in 1996 and the other in 2000. I still have the ’00-reg; I traded the ’06 in a couple of years ago after 16,000 hours.”
In Shane’s eyes, brand new tractors are over-rated. It’s impossible to argue with his logic… “In the current climate, I don’t believe in being flashier than the guy next door. This is a business. If you fork out massive money on a top-of-the-range new tractor and baler you won’t get your money back. I prefer to go for fresh second-hand tractors. Two- and three-year-old tractors have depreciated so much that it is worth your while buying them. If they are properly maintained, they are good as new.”
To this end, Shane oversees his own well-equipped workshop, where he is fully up to speed on all aspects of John Deere maintenance, servicing and repairs. A full agri and farm machinery auto electrical service is provided not just to his own fleet but also to outside contractors and farmers.
Shane takes great pride in his fleet and every machine is preserved in immaculate condition at all times.
“My father bought one of the combines new in ’81 and I bought the second one in 2012,” he notes. “I still work the ’81 one. It’s a John Deere 955 and it still goes like a watch. I wouldn’t sell it for love or money. When you spend a few quid a year on a machine it makes all the difference. When something small goes wrong, you fix it as it happens and you don’t let problems gang up on you. That’s the secret – fix as you go. Maintenance and prevention are big things with me.
Efficiency is at the heart of Shane Nolan’s long-running operation. “We do our level best to keep things as efficient as possible right across the board. For example, we try to work in a circle as much as possible when doing baling and silage and we try not to deviate from that. Time and stupidity are the biggest expenses for a contractor – and for his customers. We try to eliminate the stupid mistakes by planning properly. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
“Most of my work is within a 25-30km radius of Finavara. I would have one or two clients who are 35km away but the vast majority of them would be within 10 or 15 km. You have to be practical, too. I won’t travel 20km for ten acres, but I’d go 30 km for 100 acres.”
As well as operating one of the most reliable green fleets in the Banner County, Shane also does tillage farming himself. “There was a lot of barley and oats tillage going on here in the area some years back so I purchased the tillage gear to do that work,” he reflects. “When the farmers decided to get out of tillage, I didn’t want to sell the equipment, so I started taking land myself. I now grow beat, barley and oats, so that keeps us busy, as well as the second-cut silage, and baling.
“We do our best to try and do everything right, which is novel in this line of work,” he notes. “We also send out invoices and monthly statements, not to be pushy but because farmers genuinely forget. This is not a demand for money; it’s proper accounting procedure. Some farmers might not appreciate getting them but contracting isn’t fun and games anymore. It has to be treated like a professional business and everything has to be done properly. The day of the flashy tractor is gone.
“All loyalty is gone out of the business too. Farmers have such a choice now and they want things done as soon as possible. You sometimes have to bend over backwards to keep them happy. We might be a little bit more expensive than some of the competition but we provide a better service and a quicker one. ‘Mickey Joe’ down the road will still be cheaper but my fleet is fully contracting insured and taxed, as are my employees, and I have public liability insurance as well. We’re cutting no corners when it comes to safety.
“As things stand, the black economy will wipe out the entire sector. No matter how cheap I quote a job, there is always somebody else who is prepared to do it cheaper – because they aren’t paying their dues. You could get drawn into a very dangerous game – but my machines will stay in the yard unless I can turn a profit.
“The future is very bleak unless regulation is fully enforced. In order to be a contractor, I believe you should have to be tax compliant, registered, and fully insured and follow proper procedures. It’s a disgrace when some of us have to do it right while others don’t bother, and get away with it.”
In 2015, Shane in his role with the Farm Contractors of Ireland (FCI) held a recent fundraising barbeque which raised over €19,000, which was divided equally between Embrace FARM and Galway Hospice.
Shane organised the event, the third annual fundraiser by FCI for a charity. Tractors were lined up in a field and the barbeque was hosted in one of the sheds on the farm
“FCI asked me to host it that year and so on July 19, 2015 we had a barbeque in the yard. We displayed the machinery in the adjacent field, set up in one of the sheds like a restaurant on the farm.
“The gates were locked and the keys taken out of all the tractors, so it was a safe and enclosed environment for the kids.
“It was €10 for entry and a lot of people donated money on top of this as well as food and soft drinks. We were very lucky on the day, Saturday was a washout and Sunday the sun was splitting the rocks,” he said.
Shane M Nolan Contracts Ltd.,
Email: [email protected]
Mobile: 086 6008139
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 6 No 4, June/July 2018