At just 21 years of age, Alex Butler from Streete in Co. Westmeath was the youngest finalist in the 2018 Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Years Awards. Shortlisted in the Tillage category, the judges were hugely impressed by his forward-thinking methods and expanding enterprise.
One of the highlights of the farming year, the Awards were presented at a gala event attended by over 200 people in the Hodson Bay Hotel, Athlone on Thursday, November 1 last. The Awards featured six categories – Dairy, Beef, Tillage, Sheep, Rising Star and Farm Safety, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award. Wise beyond his years, Alex was delighted to be in the running for the Tillage Award, having been nominated by John Fagan, whose sheep farm in Gartlandstown, Mullingar was the setting for the hit RTE show ‘Big Week on the Farm’ back in 2016.
“John is a good customer of ours and I’m grateful to him for putting my name forward,” explains Alex, who divides his time between working for his father Ken’s agri contracting business and tillage farming.
“It was great to be nominated for an award like that and to be rubbing shoulders with the best farmers in the country.”
It was always Alex’s ambition to pursue a career in agriculture, which is why his studies focused on such. Following a year spent in Gurteen Agricultural College where he completed a green certificate, he studied Crops and Machinery Management Level 6 in Kildalton College and spent four months harvesting in Australia in 2017.
“I loved it in Kildalton, it was a brilliant course which I learned a lot from,” he says.
Tillage farming has always been of particular interest to Alex and he currently leases 100 acres as well as share farming another 100 acres with three other farmers. Of the 100 acres leased, 35 acres is in tillage and the rest is in grass, from which he sells two crops of silage. He also winters store lambs to graze the land more extensively and to make the most of excess grass.
Alex still uses a plough-based system, but is considering minimum tillage which, he feels, makes the best profit margins in terms of field efficiency, fuel economy,soil health and work-rate, while reducing energy consumption and costs.
Share farming has allowed him to expand his operation. He believes it is a good option for older farmers or for those without up-to-date machinery.
“With the price of land the way it is, share farming is more feasible for somebody like me. I got good returns from it last year thanks to favourable grain prices.”
Alex’s father Ken has been a tremendous support to him, despite being busy with his agri contracting enterprise, Butler Agri, which he set up in 1997 . Ken bought his first new tractor in 1997 – the same year as Alex was born – and has since built up an impressive fleet and a large customer-base in the Westmeath-Longford area.
Ken, whose wife and Mullingar-based teacher Lorna looks after all the bookkeeping, started off with slurry before branching into spreading fertiliser and lime. He has since added a number of other services, including silage and corn harvesting, dung spreading, ploughing, spraying and reseeding.
“We began cutting silage in 2007 and haven’t looked back since. We do everything now except for baling, hedge-cutting and umbilical slurry spreading,” Alex continues.
“We have brilliant customers, some of who have been with us since the beginning. The vast majority of our contracting work is carried out along the N4 between Mullingar and Longford. We’re located about halfway between the two towns. We cut between 2,500 and 3,000 acres of silage and 500-600 acres of crops per year.
“When it comes to spreading fertilizer, we’ll travel that bit further. Our three main customers in this regard are Lakeland Dairies, Glanbia and Drummond’s who we cover a large part of the midlands for. The lime comes from Hanly and Roadstone Quarries.”
Committed to providing a top-class service and complete customer satisfaction, Butler Agri has an array of machinery to carry out your work quickly and efficiently, providing you with value-for-money and an alternative to investing in your own expensive equipment. The business’ success can be attributed to the knowledge, skill and expertise of its staff as well as the quality of its machinery. The family operation delivers the value and quality farmers expect from their agricultural contracting partner.
The father-and-son team run a modern fleet of four tractors – a Fendt 724, a Fendt 828, a Massey Ferguson 7718 and a new Valtra T174 with loader, which they purchased from Clarke’s Machinery in Cavan. They run GPS systems on the two Fendts and the Massey that precisely control the tractors.
Other equipment operated include a CLAAS Jaguar 850 forage harvester, a Tucano 430 combine harvester, three Bredal spreaders (two for fertiliser and one for lime), a set of John Deere triple mowers, a Kverneland five-furrow reversible plough, an Amazone AD-P Special drill, an Amazone UX 3200 Special 24m sprayer, three Slurry tankers (Joskin, Red Rock and Major), Volvo L60G loading shovel and a couple of Broughan Trailers.
All machines are maintained on a regular basis to avoid breakdowns and downtime. Servicing and repairs are carried out inhouse by Diarmaid Waldron, who is a qualified mechanic. As is the norm in the agri contracting business, the Butler’s take on additional staff at peak times and will work around the clock during same to keep their customers happy.
The winter months are spent hauling silage and bales for other farmers, with the arrival of the new Valtra and loader having made this task considerably easier.
Butler Agri would like to take this opportunity to thank their customers for their continued support.
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019