McConaghy Contracts is a well-established agricultural contracting business based in Bushmills, County Antrim which spans three generations. 27-year-old Andrew McConaghy has inherited his father Robert and grand-father Bob’s passion for the farming way of life, not to mention their attention to detail.
It was 71 years ago that Bob McConaghy and his twin brother, Silas, decided to give contracting a go and the family name have been an ever present on the Antrim and Derry landscapes ever since.
“My grandad is still very much involved,” Andrew informed Irish Tractor & Agri, “while my mother, Hillary is very much the backbone of the business as well. I grew up in the business, I know nothing else, it’s really all I have ever been at and I joined full-time after I left school at the age of 16.”
McConaghy Contracts specialise in general contracting, silage, barley, ploughing and sowing while Plant, Digger & Excavator work is another string that the family has to their bow alongside keeping their own 250-strong herd of cattle on their 280 acres farm.
Their contracting services are very much in demand throughout their catchment area of Antrim and Derry.
Andrew added: “We employ up to 16/17 people at the busy time of the year while during the winter we usually try to keep 4/5 full-time people going. One of those would be driving the diggers a long with my father, Robert.
“Last year we purchased a fertilizer sower and that has proven to be very a big success. It has caught on far more than we would have initially thought it would. We did 10,000 acres the first year we had it.”
McConaghy Contracts boast the men and the machinery to get the job done ahead of those all-important deadlines. For example, they are currently operating a fleet of 9 New Holland T7 210s and 2 724 Fendt tractors and employ a policy of continuous investment in their machinery.
“We also have two 970 harvesters,” Andrew revealed. “We had one for a while now and upgraded a 950 to another 970 two years ago because we were greatly impressed with the 970 we had. The crops get heavier and the window gets shorter so you need that extra horsepower to get through it. They changed the head on them which makes it easier on lump swards as far as intake is concerned. That allows us to cover more ground and the work is easier on machine and man as such.
“We have shovels on 4 JCBs, a 435 2015 machine and also changed from a 414 to 419 JCB. That is slightly smaller than the 435 but it’s a great machine, as good as it gets as far as I would be concerned. Last year we purchased a smaller 4-wheel steering machine for smaller farms and we also have a Krone Big M 450 mower.”
In addition, McConaghy Contracts can call on the services of their neighbour Christopher Freeman and his tractor, trailer and JCB to help out when the weekly workload requires an extra pair of hands.
“Business is going well at the moment. We were slightly worried about drivers and things as far as Covid is concerned but that has actually worked in our favour because there were a lot of people furloughed. We had no end to the number of drivers this year, the challenge is just trying to keep every man to their own machine. Other than that, our working lives haven’t changed a great deal.
“A lot more people are getting the contractor in now to do smaller things. I mentioned the manure sowing, I think it’s a great thing for the farmer because of the speed that contractor can do it. It’s all done in the one day and it’s accurate with the GPS. It ultimately means that they are saving money.”
What are the key attributes that the McConaghy Contracts team prides itself on?
“I’d like to think everybody thinks of us as tidy contractors who do a good job,” Andrew answered. “We take great pride in our machines and try to look after everything as best we can. We have good men working for us and they are well mannered as well. That’s important because they are representing us to our customers. I know maybe on a Saturday evening they can vary a wee bit for sure but we can all do that!” he quipped.
During the off-peak winter months, Andrew keeps himself busy with a sand blasting and farm machinery painting service he started five years ago.
“I also try to keep it going on wet days,” he pointed out, “because one, it keeps money coming in and two, it keeps fellas in a job as well. That’s going relatively well too, each year is getting busier and busier. We do a lot of work for Kennedys in Ballymena, who sell NH tractors, such as warranty work and general second-hand sales. The same with a local dealer, McMullan Agri. They recently just established themselves and I’m doing a lot of work for them on second-hand machinery, basically a general tidy up of second-hand machinery.
“But, in my eyes, the diggers are the backbone of the family business hail, rain or snow they are out working and generating income.”
Turning his attention to what the future might hold in store for McConaghy Contracts, Andrew describes himself as “definitely optimistic”.
“The slurry regulations are changing now and I think that’s more in favour of the contractor. The farmer is not allowed to use a splash plate if they are over a certain amount of cows and I think a lot of farmers will end up getting the contractor in to do more because 90% of them won’t have the machinery, a dribble bar or a trailing shoe, to do that. An every day farmer in my eyes wouldn’t have a tractor to pull it or the time to go and actually work with the machine. I can see that creating more work for the contractor in years to come as far as slurry is concerned.
“As for the future, we always like to push on and get more and more work and grow the business as well as we can. In a small area around us, there are a lot of contractors and it can end up in a dog eat dog situation so it’s important we continue to offer quality service to our customers.”
In other words, the McConaghy family has no intention of changing the habits that have served them well for over seven decades!
198 Whitepark Road,
Tel: 028 20731492
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 4, December 2020