Although he grew up far removed from farmyards in a housing estate in Hacketstown, Damien Cullen always had a great love of tractors and machinery. Twenty-one years ago, he purchased his first tractor and the Carlow man has never looked back. Today he oversees one of the busiest and most reliable agri contracting enterprises in the region.
It was passion, enthusiasm and a love of machinery that attracted Damien Cullen to agricultural contracting. Already imbued with a clear vision of what he wanted to do with his life, he left school in fourth year and duly secured his Green Cert at Teagasc, Tinahely. Having worked in local dairy farms during the three years of this course, he spent a couple more years working for a local contractor before pulling the trigger and setting up his own business in 1999.
That year, the young Carlow man invested in an Ursus 912 tractor, while his cousin bought a baler. The pair worked together for the first year before Damien purchased the baler from his cousin and took over on his own. The service was expanded to include hedge cutting in 2001. Two decades of hard work and dedication later,
Damien Cullen Agri Contractor is firmly established, running a wonderful fleet of machinery and offering a comprehensive range of services to a growing list of loyal customers.
Baled silage has been the core activity for Damien Cullen Agri Contractor since Day One and this remains the case today, with a complete service provided including mowing, raking, tedding, baling, wrapping and stacking. Meanwhile, slurry, dung and lime spreading services are also provided with tankers, splash plate, trail and shoe and umbilical spreading systems as well as power harrowing, spraying and of course hedge cutting during the winter months.
Fleet-wise, five John Deeres are at the heart of the operation, while – in response to an upsurge in demand for his services – Damien took possession of a top-class second-hand Krone Big M Mk2 mower from Tom Shaw Farm Machinery in May, having purchased a new McHale Fusion 3 baler from Andrew Lacey Agri Machinery a month earlier.
“We try to update all the silage equipment as regularly as we can,” he notes. “The balers are updated every 2-3 years. We got into the second baler last year to get through the increased amount of work we are doing. We were very busy with the fine weather there in the first half of the summer.”
Alongside the Big M and two McHale Fusions, Damien also runs two slurry tankers, one with trailing shoe, the other with splash plate; two Arbocut 2000 hedge cutters; Bunning dung spreader; SlurryKat umbilical pipe system (which can use either the trailing shoe or splash plate); Lely tedder; Krone rake; Bredal lime spreader; a new Broughan trailer and an assortment of bale trailers; as well as two trailed Krone mowers for when the pressure is on or for completing smaller jobs.
Damien travels up to 35kms and covers a prime grassland area along the Carlow / Wicklow border, baling up to 17,000 bales per year. “There are a lot of dairy farmers in the area and there’s a fierce amount of paddocks being taken out and baled from April through to November,” he states. “We’re busy all year ‘round. When the silage isn’t going, the slurry and hedge cutting are.
“We’d start the hedge cutting in September, getting the tillage fields ready and then along the roadside through the winter. Then there’s dung spreading and slurry spreading. We got into the umbilical spreading two years ago and have been very busy with that during the Spring time.”
What is it about the John Deere tractor that appeals to Damien so much? “They’re reliable, they won’t let you down. We don’t buy them new … we buy them second hand from TFM (Templetuohy Farm Machinery). You can put the hours on them and that’s what a contractor needs. They are a super tractor and you could put 25,000 hours on the engine no problem.”
Needless to say, in order to guarantee the best possible service levels, all equipment is maintained in immaculate working order around the clock. “We look after some of the smaller maintenance ourselves but the bigger jobs – transmissions, brakes, etc. – all go to TFM, who are there for us 24/7 and can get us parts any time we need them.”
Looking after customers has been Damien’s No.1 priority since he started contracting. “It’s very much a local service, with a lot of the same customers coming back to us every year,” he continues. “While we travel up to 30-35km, we try to keep it local as much as possible. I’m here 21 years and thankfully I’ve managed to hold onto my customers whilst also building up the customer base with a few new ones added each year. We’ve built it up steadily over the years and that’s why we bought the second Fusion two years ago and the Big M this year … because it’s getting busier all the time.”
Ideally, an agri contractor will get in and out as quickly as possible and move on to the next job, but thanks to Mother Nature this isn’t always possible, unfortunately: “The biggest thing is the weather,” Damien confirms. “It’s our enemy for twelve months of the year and you are left with a very small window to get things done. When it’s fine, you are busy, busy, but it hasn’t been a great summer and a backlog then builds up due to the weather as you are unable to get to full capacity for an extended period.”
The self-made Carlow man isn’t complaining, however. He’s not in business to accumulate a personal fortune and is grateful for what he has, having worked so tirelessly to get to where he is today. “I’m making a living out of it and that’s enough for me. I had to work incredibly hard at the start and it was a real slog in those early years. I worked day and night and had no money or financial assistance but got through that hardship.
“I’ve always been interested in farming and machinery. I bought two sheep when I was only 12 and rented a very small area of ground. I left school at 17 and did my Green Cert and have worked hard ever since.
“The business really started to take off in September, 2001 when I bought my first Arbocut hedge cutter brand new. I didn’t have an hour’s work ahead of me at the time but have been at it full time ever since. I went to Ford tractors and then Landini and then got my first John Deere 6910 in 2007 – a super tractor and I’ve stuck with them ever since, with TFM giving a very good back-up service.”
Damien Cullen Agri Contractor would never have become a sustainable and viable commercial entity had not the founder been supported by those around him. “I’ve had great support from my wife Caroline, a Wexford woman who comes from a farming background, and our two kids Cathal and Amy,” he concludes. “Caroline has made a lot of sacrifices so that I could focus on the contracting, while even when I started out I got great support from my mother and father and also from my brother Robert, who helped me out a lot when I started contracting. Robert now runs his own landscaping and nursery business.
“At the end of the day, you are only as good as the people around you. This includes my staff and all the local companies who help out. You couldn’t give a reliable service without all these people backing you up.
“I’d also like to thank the local farmers for all their support. They have stuck with me and without their loyalty and support I wouldn’t be here today providing this service.”
Damien Cullen Agri Contractor,
Tel: 086 3459011
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 8 No 3, October/November 2020