For coming up on two decades, Carn Hill Agri has been delivering a full range of exceptional agricultural contracting services to farmers in Meath and surrounding counties. We spoke to proprietor Aidan Halligan to find out more about the business and the magnificent fleet of tractors and machinery at his disposal.
When farmers engage an agricultural contractor, without exception they expect the work to be carried out promptly, safely, efficiently and professionally by skilled workers using the finest equipment. These prerequisites are a given and a contractor won’t last for more than a couple of seasons unless he can deliver consistently on all of them.
Operating out of Alexanderaide (Alexander Reid), in Navan, County Meath for 17 years and counting, Carn Hill Agri meets exacting standards on every job carried out – be it pit silage, slurry, digger work, ploughing, tilling, sowing, spraying, harvesting, mowing, baling and wrapping, dump trailer work, drawing bales, road sweeping or anything else a farmer might request. However, respect, reliability and loyalty are other attributes that founder Aidan Haligan holds dearly and are qualities which underpin the success and longevity of this outstanding, highly-respected contracting enterprise:
“For me, it’s vitally important to respect people and to know how to talk to them and how to communicate with them,” the Meath man states. “You have to be straight with people and upfront with them. Really it just comes down to having a bit of manners when you are there, talk to people and be friendly.
“If you get along with people and look after them, then it will serve you well. We’ve built up a strong customer base and have been working for the same people all along. On the rare occasion that you do lose a job, you will generally pick up a better one. We provide a full range of services here and, to be honest, I don’t mind too much what we are doing on any given day as long as we have something to do and all the lads have work.”
To achieve this, it’s imperative to run a diverse, flexible and fresh fleet of machinery and this is another area where Carn Hill Agri certainly excels. At the heart of the fleet are six tractors, including a couple of recent additions. Aidan ran John Deere for a long time but it’s more of a mixed fleet now:
“I brought a New Holland T7.185 from Herbie Griffin in Cavan and, even though it’s a nice-looking tractor, when it first arrived I didn’t like it. But I then bought a new Fusion 3 Plus baler this year as well and put the New Holland on it and I’m really starting to like it now.
“I have a 620 Claas that a friend in the North located for me last year and it’s a nice wee tractor. It has a John Deere engine but we won’t hold that against it! I have a Claas 697 and a John Deere 6930 that’s been here for years and is a very good tractor.
“This year I also purchased a new Deutz 6155 from Eardly Agricultural Services in Kilkenny. It was a demo with 100 hours on it and I use it for mowing. I have front and rear McHale mowers on it which I got from Lyons & Burton. Lastly, we also have a John Deere 6400, which I use for raking.”
Agricultural contracting is not for everyone. It’s hard work and the hours are long, so you have to have a passion for it. “It’s hard work and it has its moments and some days you do find yourself wondering what you are at but you have to move on and better yourself and forget about the bad days,” Aidan notes.
“I bought a second-hand New Holland harvester last year, too, and I’m very pleased with it – you get through the work a lot quicker. It takes a lot of money to keep the show going between the price of the machinery and also the diesel and spare parts. These costs have been rising a lot and I’ve had to increase my rates as a result. I had no choice and farmers appreciate that.
“You are waiting on the phone to ring to bring in the work and the money. Once you’ve committed to contracting, there’s no other money coming in. Look, you have to love this work to be at it – it’s almost like a disease. My father [Michael] and my uncles grew spuds and corn for a time and that’s where I got my interest from. My dad loved the smell of clay and was happiest when he was out on the land. He passed away five years ago and is a big loss. You can’t replace that. After a loss like that, you look at things in a different manner and you keep working and move on as best you can. That’s the challenge facing all of us, I suppose.
“I’m very lucky to have a great team of men with me. I also have a great circle of friends and neighbours who I can turn to when I need advice or assistance. It’s great to have those people around you.”
Reflecting on the genesis of his contracting business, Aidan points out: “Going back as far as 1999, I was on the farm at home, growing spuds and corn and baling. Around 2003/04, I gave up the spuds and started doing contracting work. You’d find yourself doing a bit more each year and the business grew gradually. I started with baling and drawing silage … you got a bit stronger each year and added a few bits and pieces.
“In 2011, having worked initially with another chap, I got involved in silage on my own. I bought a set of pipes five years ago and that was a good move as it gave us work in January when there wasn’t much on. Doing slurry keeps us moving as you can be at it different months and it keeps the cash flow going too. It keeps work for the lads in the winter time which is important as they are more likely to be still there for you in the spring and summer.”
Not every departure worked out but, by and large, the business grew organically… “I bought a beet harvester and kept it for a couple of years but that was pure torture and you’d hate looking at it,” the Meath man admits. “I’ve recently bought a new grass seeder for stitching in grass in paddocks so that you aren’t picking stones. That has worked out really well and does nice work when the conditions are right.”
Of course, one can’t stand still. To the contrary, ongoing investment in replenishing, expanding and servicing the fleet is vital.
“In 2019 I bought a new DGM loading shovel for the silage pit from Damian Goff in Wexford, with whom I’ve since became great friends. I’m very pleased with it for a machine that came out of China. It has great weight and great power and, with a Cummins engine and ZF transmission, you can’t go too wrong.
“I had a 12-foot OCE silage fork and I bought a 14-foot OCE fork last year – there’s no extra pressure with it and it’s working away grand. I got a new 5500 McHale baler last year … they are very good balers and it’s great work. I also got my mowers off them new in 2017 and haven’t spent a penny on them since, so will probably go back again. They are paid for now and are still going grand so I’ll see if I can get another year or two out of them without any payments.”
Carn Hill Agri also run a 30ft Claas tedder, 30ft and 20ft Fella rakes, a 2,500-gallon Hi Spec tanker and a one-pass plough. Spraying and fertilizer spreading services are provided as well as dung spreading, with a new PICHON dung spreader having arrived from Kehoes of Camolin a couple of years back. “It’s not the dung that’s the problem, it’s what’s in the dung,” Aidan states. “If farmers would keep tyres, stones, twine and wire out of it, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
Aidan raised Friesian bull calves over the winter for a number of years but hasn’t done so for the past two winters. His contracting operation generates employment for five full time and he also enlists assistance with accounts and paperwork.
“That’s the biggest thing – to have money there,” he concludes. “It’s a serious money pit and contracting is some yoke to eat money. If you need something done on an engine, you are talking two grand straight away. Spare parts, machinery and diesel have all got shocking expensive and it’s a constant struggle to take in more money than you are paying out.”
Carn Hill Agri Ltd.,
Tel: 046 9024050
Mobile: 086 8239189
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 6, November/December 2021