Alan Ross is the third generation of his family to provide keen agri contracting services across North Cork. Irish Tractor & Agri popped into AG Ross Agri Ltd.’s Ballyhooly, Mallow base and had a chat with Alan to find out more about this exceptional operation.
Formed in 2019, AG Ross Agri Ltd. may be a relatively new company name but it is part of a well-established, highly-respected contracting legacy in the Rebel County, the genesis of this family business dating back many decades.
It was 42 years ago, in 1978, that proprietor Alan Ross’ grandfather, Michael – a long-standing farmer and contractor – decided the time had come to step aside and allow his sons to assume control of the family business. George took charge of the contracting and tillage side of the operation (which traded as George Ross & Sons up until last year) while his brother Frank would henceforth run the dairy enterprise.
Today, George’s son Alan oversees this highly-respected third-generation North Cork agri contracting business, which generates full-time employment for a team of seven and up to 14 men during the busy summer peak. Covering a substantial catchment area within a 40km radius of Ballyhooly, conveniently located off the N72 between Mallow and Fermoy, AG Ross Agri provides a diverse, year-round service.
This includes full pit-silage services from start to finish as well as baled silage (“baling has taken off big time in the past few years”), slurry, dung spreading, reseeding, maize drilling, whole-crop wheat harvesting, ploughing and bale haulage. During the winter months, hedge cutting, land drainage, land reclamation and site work services are provided, ensuring steady cash flow to keep the business commercially viable.
Machinery-wise, a fleet of 14 Deutz-Fahr tractors is at the heart of the operation alongside two Deutz combines and two self-propelled silage outfits. Alan runs two Krone Big X harvesters, a pair of Krone Big M mowers (plus a standby mower), a McHale Fusion baler and Pottinger rake and tedders. “We do silage, wholecrop and maize – sowing maize under plastic as well as ordinary maize,” he notes. “We also do our own tillage and sell straw as well.”
On the slurry side, the Cork man runs a Slurryquip umbilical slurry system and three Abbey slurry tanks with agitators. Other immaculately-maintained pieces of machinery in the yard include a Case digger, three Volvo excavators, Rolland 14-tonne dung spreader, Amazone trail sprayer, four Smyth silage wagons, McConnell hedgecutter, Kverneland plough, two power harrows, a modified Amazone drill / re-seeder, an assortment of bale trailers and three Volvo loaders.
Constant investment in replenishing and maintaining machinery ensures that Alan and his team are always on top of their game: “You are always reinvesting and you have to keep everything up to scratch,” he confirms. “We are quite diverse and we always have something to do to put the machinery to good use. It has become almost impossible for a contractor to survive without being diverse as all the traditional contracting work tends to come at you at the same time within a very small window. As a lot of farmers have expanded, they can’t do all the work themselves, so there’s more demand during those busy summer weeks – but you need to have work for the rest of the year, too.
“With modern machinery, you could nearly get through most of the work in a matter of weeks if you get the right weather. In good weather, the first cuts can be done in three weeks instead of seven … you are always at the mercy of the weather, though, and you never know what is coming. But with such a short window in the summer time, I don’t know how any contractor could survive these days on slurry and silage alone.”
Having served his time as a mechanic at Kearney Bros Agri, main Deutz dealer, Alan has a real appreciation of just how good Deutz equipment is and is also well-placed to oversee fleet maintenance / upkeep. “I trained as a mechanic with Kearneys before travelling to Australia and New Zealand, but have been home full time since 2013,” he reflects. “I know the Deutz brand well and I’m very happy with them.
“We changed two of the tractors last year and have updated some of the fleet already this year. The price of tractors and insurance has risen but unfortunately our rates have remained the same. You are always looking for ways to become more efficient and, as I said, we are lucky to have the diggers to go back to the dumper work when things are quiet. You have to be diverse to justify having a large fleet of machinery. As we also have our own tillage operation, we can spend some time ploughing our own fields as well.”
To this end, the Ross tillage enterprise comprises some 700 acres (100 owned, 600 rented) of winter barley and maize grown for local dairy farmers.
Ultimately, to remain in the contracting business for as long and as successfully as three generations (and counting…) of the Ross family have done, you need to be providing an excellent service… “It’s all about service at the end of the day,” Alan concurs. “You have to look after your customers. You have to be prepared to do some of the tougher jobs and jobs that might not be profitable. You need to give and take and be there for customers when they need you. Labour is a big problem as we can’t provide full-time work and the incentive isn’t there with the Government’s approach to PRSI – the seasonal worker is being squeezed out.
“Then you have a lot of young lads coming in and buying gear when they really should be coming to work with us, but the PRSI situation is ruling that out. As contracting isn’t properly regulated, these young lads can just jump in and take the nice handy jobs. Look, obviously competition is a good thing, but everybody should be insured and paying their taxes and farmers should be compelled to only use regulated contractors.
“The only way forward for contracting is to stop the one-off guy who can come in from nowhere and do a lot of damage. If we could weed out the black market stuff it would be better for everybody. Contractors could get more work and better prices and the farmers would benefit too as we’d be more inclined to invest in better machinery and therefor provide an even better service.
“At the moment, I’d say access to labour and unregulated interference are the two biggest problems facing the modern contractor. It’s far too easy to set up as a contractor and it makes things very difficult for guys like us who have been here for 40+ years.”
Although he has taken a back seat, Alan’s father George is still involved in the business, bringing five decades of experience to proceedings. “He’s well liked around here and we get on well,” Alan states. “He has worked very hard over the years and has taught me a lot. We actually used to cut a lot more silage down through the years but that has died down a bit and there’s less now, ironically, even though there are more animals. There aren’t as many sucklers now as there used to be and that has cut it back.”
As the third generation of the Rosses to be offering unrivalled agri contracting services, Alan is hoping that this proud family tradition can be maintained into the future. “It would be nice to keep it going,” he concludes. “My son Fionn is only one at the moment but I’m hoping that maybe he’ll be the fourth generation.”
AG Ross Agri Ltd.,
Tel: 087 7722128
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 3, October/November 2020