In the blood

31 Aug , 2015  

For some, agricultural contracting is quite simply in the blood, part of the DNA so to speak. They are born to the land. This certainly applies to McConaghy Contracts, a prolific third-generation family business operating out of Bushmills in County Antrim. We met up with Robert McConaghy to take a closer look at this long-established operation.

One only has to contemplate for a moment the sheer volume of work done by McConaghy Contracts in an average year to form a picture of the popularity and efficiency of this exceptional family business, which has been providing a stellar service to a legion of loyal customer for over six decades.

Consider this: up to 7,000 acres of grass; 1,000 acres of wholecrop; approximately 600 acres of maize; and an additional 800 acres of barley and wheat. The service provided by the McConaghys is in big demand across counties Antrim and Derry and the reason for this is obvious: they provide a prompt, reliable and affordable service. Their superb track record speaks for itself.

Robert McConaghy’s father Bob got the tractor rolling way back in 1949, when he set up a contracting business alongside his twin brother Silas. At the rare old age of 83, Bob is still active in the family business today. “He’s still running around keeping people right,” Robert notes. “I’ve been involved in farming all my life. My dad had me on the farm since I was able to walk.”

The third generation of the family is now also involved. “My son Andrew, who’s 21, takes a big responsibility in the agricultural end of it now,” Robert continues. “He manages the agricultural contracting alongside Bob, and my cousin Gareth McCurdy is also heavily involved.

“We also do a lot of plant, digger and excavator work and I now oversee that end of the business myself. That started out with work on farms but then went into a lot of civil work for a while, but we’ve now gone back almost full circle towards more farm work again.”

Fleet-wise, McConaghy Contracts operate a fleet of ten tractors, eight New Hollands and two Fendts. Investment in the fleet is ongoing and every effort is made to ensure that the vehicles are as new and fresh as possible. To this end, two brand new tractors were purchased in late 2013 and there are two more new ones on order as I write, due to be delivered in the Spring of 2015, in time for the new season.

As for the rest of the agricultural machinery at their disposal, Robert runs us through some of the more prominent pieces of equipment in the fleet: “We’d cut a lot of silage and we have two Claas Jaguar self-propelled foragers – a 960 and an AdBlue 950 which we bought brand new this year.

“We also took delivery this year of a new Krone Big M 420 as well as a set of Krone butterfly mowers. We’ve invested a lot of money in the past twelve months but you have to do that.

“As well as that, we run two Claas Lexion combines; two 414 JCBs, one of which was bought in 2010, the other in 2013; and two Hitachi Zaxis 130-3 diggers. We also spread slurry, plough and sow. For the slurry, we have two three-and-a-half-thousand gallon Herron slurry tankers, three Red Rock slurry tankers plus two umbilical systems.”

Reflecting on the original models in the fleet, when his father Bob first set out on the road as an agri contractor, Robert reveals: “The very first tractor he had would have been a Cropmaster and he had Fordsons for a while as well as David Browns for a time. The first ones I can remember were Massey 165s and a 178 and he also bought a fleet of Ford 5000s and 7000s in 1972. I remember those arriving.”

On such vivid memories are lifelong vocations nurtured! Regarding the catchment area covered by McConaghy Contracts these days, Robert adds: “We cover a fairly large area, from Bushmills out as far as Derry and up by Swatragh direction. We’d mostly work within a 40-mile radius of Bushmills, in Antrim and Derry.”

The business benefits from the support of a large number of loyal customers. How have they been able to hold onto this custom? In other words, what is the secret of running a successful contracting operation? “When a farmer is looking for you to get a job done, you have to get to him when he wants you. This means investing in bigger machines so that you can do jobs quicker and get around more farms in a shorter space of time, as well as investing in more men. When you are there, needless to say, you have to do a good job, too.”

In terms of manpower, a team of 15 is on call during peak times, while six men are maintained over the winter months. Top quality machinery is at the heart of the business… “If you don’t have good equipment, you are breaking down and this is unacceptable. Ultimately, a contractor is only as good as the machinery dealer that supplies him. You have to have a good dealer to back you up and we are very lucky in this respect.

“Most of our machines are under warranty and the suppliers we deal with provide an excellent service. Michael Erwin of Erwin Agricare in Crumlin is our local Claas dealer and we buy our Fendts from John McElderry in Ballymoney. We use Kennedy & Co in Ballymena for New Holland and purchase our JCBs from BC Plant in Hillsborough. Our Hitachi diggers come from TBF Thompson in Garvagh.”

While naturally farmers want the work done as cheaply as possible, Robert finds that there’s no haggling over price once the job is done properly. “A lot of them would be more concerned with getting the job done properly and quickly,” he confirms. “When it’s dry, they want the job done and they want it done quickly. We have the manpower and the equipment to meet these demands.”

The McConaghys also farm 280 acres of their own land and keep 300 head of cattle. In addition to this, they rent a 100-acre farm for crops and grass silage.

Looking to the future, Robert says the plan is to continue as things are, providing the high-quality contracting service for which they are renowned: “Andrew has also started up a new business sandblasting and painting farm machinery for local farmers,” he points out. “There has been a lot of interest in that service so far, so it’s an exciting development going forward.”

McConaghy Contracts,
198 Whitepark Road,
County Antrim,
BT57 8SR
Northern Ireland.
Tel: 028 20731492

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 3 No 1, January/February 2015