The silage season was fast approaching when Irish Tractor & Agri touched base with Shane Nolan, the well-known County Clare-based agri contractor, in May and he was busy putting the final touches to his preparations.
“We’re out the door getting ready,” he informed us. “Today I have five working with me, in the height of the season, in a week or 10 days’ time, I’ll hopefully have ten or 12.”
How has Covid-19 impacted on this contracting business? “It has impacted us a good bit alright because you just have to be careful, you have to be careful who comes and goes around the place,” Shane replied. “Getting parts has also been an issue but that’s nearly more down to Brexit than it is to Covid.”
As secretary of the Western Division of the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors of Ireland (FCI), Shane puts his shoulder to the wheel when it comes to fighting the agri contractors’ corner.
The objectives of the FCI are to represent agricultural contractors at the highest level with politicians and the Department of Agriculture in Ireland and Europe; to promote good contractor/farmer relationships; to promote the benefits of a good agricultural contracting service, to provide members with knowledge and courses to help them run their businesses and to provide a good working relationship between contractors.
“We haven’t been able to have any meetings but we’ve had a few Zoom calls alright which is better than nothing at all.”
As regards the main issues that are of concern to contractors at this point in time, Shane outlined: “The price of diesel is on the way up and it usually goes up this time of year just before the silage starts.
“Then there’s also the carbon tax there but, to be honest with, you my impression of the carbon tax is that if your costs go up, you put your price up. I don’t think it is such a big issue. It is going to cost contractors more but it should be passed on to the customer. You go to the shopkeeper and if the price of milk goes up, he’s going to charge you more it. The cost of bread, whatever goes up He’s not going to give it to you for the same price.
“The fuel companies aren’t going to sell you diesel at last year’s price if it was less,” Shane continued. “That’s the problem with contracting though, there are too many out there that don’t know how to manage their costs, how to cost a job.
“With Health & Safety for anyone involved in plant, some are not costing in having a man at either end of the road. They don’t add in all those factors.”
The FCI has made tentative little steps of progress in their dealings with the Government and the Department of Agriculture.
“We have been pushing hard with Ministers and they are now recognising that contractors are a different entity from farming. Not so long ago they thought we were just farmers but now they are recognising that we are not. Unfortunately, there has been little progress around regulating the sector, however.”
When asked to elaborate, Shane explained: “There are a lot of contractors out there with no contracting insurance. They have insurance for the road, that’s not good enough to get you covered in the field. If you are working for hire and reward, you have to have contracting insurance. If something happens, you are responsible.
“Another aspect that’s affecting contractors quite a bit is farmers getting grants for slurry tankers and agitators, all that sort of thing. If the Government had their head on properly they would turn around and give the grant to the contractors.
“It would be money better spent for the simple reason that the majority of farms don’t need to have a €40,000 tanker and trailing shoe sitting in the corner of the yard for most of the year. It just doesn’t make sense to give them 60% of a grant to buy a piece of metal that they most likely didn’t need or couldn’t afford that’s just going to rot away in the corner and it will rot away because it’s only being used four, five or six days of the year and that’s it.
“Whereas, if they give that grant to the contractor, first of all, the contractor is going to make more use of the gear and, secondly, he’s going to be more professional with the gear in general. I’m not saying that all contractors are professional, you always have the slobbery ones, but that’s just the select few.
“Then you have the likes of fertilizer spreaders. Okay, I would agree that a dairy farmer should have his own fertilizer spreader, a small one at least. A dairy farmer is going to want to be putting out fertilizer regularly. The problem is you go and get a farmer there who goes and buys his tanker, typically he is going to buy a 2000 to 3000 gallon or somewhere in between. Now he has to go and buy himself a bigger tractor! They don’t sit down and think of that and what’s he going to do with a 150 horsepower tractor for the rest of the year? He has no use for it.”
A common sense approach has served Shane well as regards his own well-established operation. All agricultural services are available for hire, from pit silage to baling to slurry and trailing shoe to hedge cutting and all tillage work. In addition, Shane and his team possess the capabilities to cater for all the machinery service and repair needs of their valued clients. Their own fleet of 15 immaculately maintained John Deere tractors and associated machinery are the best possible advertisement for this arm of the business.
“Every bit of it is green, the John Deere green. I changed my harvester last year from a 7300 to a 7480. I came up from a ’04 to 2014. There are 15 tractors, the majority of them are 20 series, there are seven 6920s in there.
“Between the whole lot of them there are six or seven auto powers. I like auto powers and we actually repair auto powers here for other people. There is no one else in the country doing them. I have a 6175 here at the moment doing a repair on it. The repairs workshop is what keeps us busy during the winter. I’m not taking in new jobs from now on, we’re just trying to get our own gear ready for silage. We’ve a little bit of baling done, not much, but there are two or three lads there all year round in the workshop plus myself.
“I’m also knocking out a couple hundred acres of tillage for myself. We keep the majority of the grain and during the winter we roll it and sell it to local merchants and farmers.”
There is nothing complicated about Shane’s approach to his contracting business – in his own words it’s simply about “doing the job right”.
“If that’s the case you don’t have the customer coming back to you complaining, this isn’t right, that isn’t right. Just do the job right and do it professionally. Okay, we are probably a bit dearer than the rest but the farmer either wants a cheap, shoddy job done or wants me to be there in the future to get the job done properly,” he concluded.
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First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 5, September/October 2021