Derek Stewart Agricultural Contracting in Co Longford sees itself as a “one-stop shop” for all of its clients’ agri contracting needs. Irish Tractor & Agri heard all about the business – from its origins to the work it carries out nowadays – from Derek himself.
Based in Ballinamore, Killashee, Co Longford, Derek Stewart heads up a family-run agri contracting business and a dairy calf to beef enterprise which rears around 400 calves a year.
Along with his wife Diane, brother Ian and son Philip (better known as ‘Farmer Phil’ in Irish farming circles), Derek also runs a tillage operation along with the calf-to-beef enterprise.
He’s a second generation farmer, with his late father having first started in the industry way back in the 1930s.
Irish Tractor & Agri caught up with Derek recently to find out more about his family’s business and its excellent fleet of machinery.
“I left school around 1981/82 and started tricking at tractors. That’s how I got started off in it,” he outlined.
“I bought a round baler off Derek Johnston after that and we took it from there, branching out into slurry and any jobs that were going really.
“In 2000, I bought an umbilical system and we got very busy after that and now, almost 20 years later, we’re still here at it.”
The last 20 years in particular have seen the repertoire of services that the company provides grow more and more.
To no surprise, the list of clients has gone the same way with the Stewarts now providing a ‘one-stop shop’ service for its customers.
Silage work has always been something of a speciality for the company and will continue to be going forward, according to Derek.
“We’ve always cut our own silage. I started cutting a bit of silage in 2007 after we bought a self-propelled off Leinster Farm Machines,” he said.
“We’ve done a good bit of maize after that and a lot of whole cropping. I changed my harvester a few years ago and bought a much bigger harvester to cope with the demand.
“We’ve grown a good bit of tillage and had bad loss in 2016 with the bad weather but, thankfully, things are good again now.”
He added: “I’d just like to mention here that my wife Diane is a big part of the company as well. She does a lot for us and looks after the books for us. Next year (2020) we’ll be 25 years married.”
Their 23-year-old son Philip has been working on the family farm since he was a youngster and was involved in the Young Beef Farmer Sustainability Programme (YBFSP) in conjunction with Macra na Feirme and Dawn Meats.
It’s a programme that helps young farmers develop their farming skills, as well as their business and commercial awareness.
In recent years, Philip gained notoriety in the farming community as ‘Farmer Phil’, uploading videos every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday to his popular YouTube page which has more than 11,000 subscribers and close to 2,500,000 page views.
“He’s always been into the technology end of things,” Derek pointed out. “He just started posting videos on YouTube then and it took off from there for him.”
All of the family members have featured in the popular videos numerous times and, while Derek is delighted by their growing success, he knows that YouTube videos aren’t about to pay the bills.
“Contracting is a tough life. You’ll always get paid but you mightn’t get paid when you want to,” he laughed.
“We’re rearing about 400 calves here at the moment and bringing them to beef. We’re on 180 hectares between what’s owned and rented and we start off the season with umbilical slurry on January 15th.
“We’re never idle here and umbilical-wise we can go as far as 60 kilometres from here. We cut silage for four or five farmers and cut all of our own corn along with a good bit of whole crop.
“We also started crimping grain in 2002. It’s a niche market which has been going well for us since, thankfully.”
Rearing about 400 calves a year, the family operate two systems. One is a 16-month bull beef system and the other a 20-month bull beef system. We also rear some heifers and bullocks.
Right now they have eight Massey Ferguson tractors in their fleet, with plans to perhaps update some of the older machinery on the farm during the year ahead.
Buying off Howard Fulton in Dungiven, Derek believes that Massey Ferguson “can’t be beaten” when it comes to a quality and reliable tractor.
As for the secrets behind his own family farm’s continued success, Derek believes that a strong and reliable service goes a long way in this game.
“I’m years at it now,” he said. “We try and give a good service to our customers and I think they’re happy with the service that we provide.
“The farming itself is in a tough place at the minute apart from the dairy, so our hopes for 2020 will be to keep the bills paid and keep the customers that we have – maybe even pick up one or two more along the way while we’re at it.”
*In November, Philip Stewart hosted a very successful farm walk from the family farm in Ballinamore, Killashee in association with Longford Macra, having been a participant in the Macra Young Farmer of the Year awards.
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First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 1, February/March 2020