Alongside his wife Susie, Lloyd Forbes runs an exceptional agri contracting operation from his base in Knockatoor, Carrigaline, County Cork. We interrupted the enthusiastic husband-and-wife duo’s busy schedule to discuss the history and current wellbeing of their popular enterprise, which has been going strong for coming up on a quarter of a century.
Lloyd Forbes has been contracting since 1996. In recent years, the hard-working Cork man has been joined in the running of Lloyd Forbes Agri Contracting Ltd. by his wife Susie and the result is an even more efficient and reliable range of services than hitherto.
Covering Minane Bridge, Douglas, Innishannon, Passage, Ballygarvan, Carrigaline and everywhere in between, the family-run business currently has over 130 loyal customers on its books … a fact that tells us more about the consistently high quality of services provided than any amount of verbiage ever could!
A vast range of contracting services is offered and expertly delivered, including but by no means limited to silage, maize, hedge cutting, zero grazing, slurry spreading, fertiliser spreading, baling, loader hire, dumper work and mulching. There’s never a dull moment for Lloyd and Susie, who also run a suckler and tillage farm.
“Bales are a big thing here now, they have really taken off,” says Lloyd. “Between the bales and harvesting, we are kept busy all summer long.”
In order to get all the work done as quickly and efficiently as possible, a modern, immaculately-maintained fleet is a prerequisite and the conscientious, progressive-minded husband-and-wife team aren’t found wanting in this regard.
At present, there are eight units in the tractor fleet: six John Deeres, one Case and one Fendt, the latter which was purchased brand new in 2018 and a new John Deere 8600i self-propelled forage harvester was added in 2016. Investment is of course ongoing to make sure the machinery is always on top of its game and to this end a new Belair Zero Grazer, JCB loader, mower, trailer and rake were all acquired during the course of 2019.
For next year, we have ordered a new John Deere 9700 harvester and plan to invest in a new zero Grazer, baler and rake. “We’ll keep the Zero Grazer fresh, replacing it every year. We have two balers and they are changed automatically every two years.”
Lloyd’s brother, who works as a mechanic with Farm Power, oversees a lot of the day-to-day servicing and repairs, while Trevor Ryall of Ryall’s Farm Machinery looks after the full servicing and maintenance of all balers, wrappers and rakes.
Lloyd and Susie both work full time, while the business also generates full-time employment for one other man as well as up to 12 or 13 during the peak of the summer.
“It wasn’t a bad year overall. The cuts were good and we got a lot of work done,” the Cork man reflects. “We were busier than usual and we also got married in July, I felt after ten years it was time which added to it all a bit. So it’s been a very good year overall. Every year is getting busier but the work is being squeezed into a smaller window
“The seasons are shortening and all the work seems to come in bigger bursts, which means there are bigger challenges to be faced at certain times of the year.”
It’s imperative that contractors are able to think on their feet and plan their way forward. By putting their heads together and adapting a meticulous, collaborative approach to working out what aspects of the business are efficient and which aren’t making money, Lloyd and Susie are improving their services and efficiencies year on year, nay month on month…
“We used to have a Big M but we changed that to butterfly mowers last year and bought a Zero Grazer. Running costs are much cheaper and there’s one less wage to worry about, so that change has worked out well,” he notes.
Controlling overheads is critical, as is organisation. “A lot of it comes back to how organised and efficient you are as a business and how you manage your machinery and staff,” Susie continues. “We haven’t lost any jobs due to not being able to get to them and that is important.”
Lloyd feels that having a good reputation is the key to long-term success as an agri contractor.
“It’s not just one thing, there are a number of factors that combine to make the business successful,” elaborates Susie, taking up the theme. “Firstly, Lloyd and I have invested so much in the business, we want to ensure that it continues to expand and be successful. To get the business to the standard it is at and to ensure it continues to prosper is has and will continue to require a lot of hard work, long hours and dedication on our parts.
“Secondly, you need staff that are loyal and hardworking. We’re lucky in this regard. Our main man Jason is with us ten years, and many of the part timers have been with us for over a decade also. Its important that you look after your staff and treat them with the respect they deserve.
“Thirdly, you have to have machines that won’t break down and delay jobs. You need to make sure the machinery is going to be able to keep going during busy times and this involves maintenance in advance and upgrading the machinery.
“Also, when you see an opportunity, to add something new, you have to be prepared to do so. For example, we took the jump and added the Zero Grazer last year, we also bought a new slurry tanker with a trailing shoe and those investments are paying off”
You have to constantly reassess the business in terms of what’s making money, what’s not making money, are the machines in the business meeting the customers’ requirements and act accordingly. So it’s about having the right machines and keeping them up to date and in good condition.
“Customers, of course, are also key and you’d have nothing without them. You need to keep your customers happy and the only way to do this is to ensure that you are continuously diversifying and adding machines such as the zero grazer to ensure you meet their requirements and provide a service that completed to a high standard and reliable. There is a huge underlying respect and loyalty between you and your customer – and also towards your staff.
“Then you have your suppliers. We couldn’t do this without them. Trevor Ryall has been out at 10pm on a Saturday night doing repairs to get us back up and going. The same can be said for all our suppliers but to name a few Seanie Byrne of West Waterford Agri Sales, Express Tyres in Carrigaline, Gearoid Harrington Agri and Brian Tobin with Corrib Oil. They and all are suppliers provide us with an outstanding service. But it works both ways and we show loyalty to them, as well.”
True to form, Susie and Lloyd had an agri-themed wedding in the middle of the heady summer gone by. The bride arrived at the church in a tractor and the wedding party departed in six. “We both love what we do and we wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Susie confirms. “We both wanted a summer wedding. We got married on the Friday and were both back out at 8am on the Monday morning cutting silage … that’s the nature of the business we are in and you have to go with it.”
The passion and enthusiasm the pair share for all things agri is infectious. Susie, who also comes from a dairy and contracting family, looks after the baling, when she isn’t baling she is drawing silage, maize, as well as taking care of all the accounts and administration. She’s also studying for a Masters at the moment, so things can get pretty hectic!
“We’ve started using the OneClick accounting system, which has been a dream and has made us a lot more efficient,” she points out. “We can see more clearly what is viable and what gear is making money. For example, we could see that the Big M repair costs were too high and that’s why we replaced it with the butterfly mowers. It gives a clear indication of what machines are bringing in the money and which aren’t. also it allows us the see how much money it out to be collected and allows us to invoice customers using an app on our mobile phone. It also is used by all staff to record their working hours. It has reduced the volume and time spent on paper work which has allowed me to spend less time in the office and more time out at bales and silage this summer.”
While it’s no secret that running a sustainable, profitable contracting operation is far from easy, Lloyd and Susie Forbes are making a fine fist of it, with energy and determination driving them forward. “The money side of it is challenging and we’ve had to make huge sacrifices,” Susie concludes. “Even when it comes to something like moving away from cheques to internet banking, the older generation don’t want to switch. So you have to accommodate them and do things both ways. Although its time consuming, the positive is that when you are out collecting money, you get a chance to catch up with your customers and that’s nice too.”
Lloyd Forbes Agri Contractor Ltd.,
Tel: 087 8345338
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 1, February/March 2020