Based outside of Dunleer, Co Louth, Paughanstown Farm operates around 400 acres of cereals and 70 acres of potatoes. It is run by John Carroll who is also the IFA chairman in Co Louth and was good enough to take the time recently to fill Irish Tractor Agri & Plant in on the details of his farm and the role he combines it with.
John Carroll is a busy man these days and the Wee County native wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having been immersed in farming all of his working life, he has also been involved in numerous positions within the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).
February 2020 saw John elected as Louth County chairman for the IFA and the months that followed made for some unprecedented times as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic swept the globe.
Irish Tractor Agri & Plant touched base with the man himself recently to find out more.
“It was just at the beginning of Covid that I was elected,” John outlined. “The first two years with Covid was all done online and I learned an awful lot about how to work the phone. I could spread fertiliser all day (before the prices went through the roof) and be at national council meetings, listening to lads on the phone with the earpiece on.
“So, it was certainly different. The business was still done and there were online elections too. There were people that stepped down and people that stepped up and life moved on and, from an IFA perspective, life didn’t stop and things kept going on.”
John was also a member of the National Grain Committee which represents the country’s 13,000 cereal growers, with the most important issues including feed grains, peas, beans and oilseed prices and malting barley premium.
The grain which is produced at Paughanstown Farm is sold locally to Marksville Farms Ltd and Philip Halpenny Ltd.
“All of our grain is stored on the farm until after harvest,” said John. “We work with New Holland combines and it looks after the straw pretty good because we baled all the straw in 8x4x3 square bales and there’s a good market for those in Cavan, Monaghan and into Northern Ireland.
“The lorry men like drawing those bales because of the load they can get on and it’s a good secure load and the farmer on the other side can handle that size of square bale with a smaller tractor. So, he’s happy enough to buy that bale and, if you look at the loads of straw on the road, I’d say 60% of them are 8x4x3. Very few lads want to handle the round bales anymore because they’re too much hassle.”
On the farm itself, John has one full-time man working along with him and on it they grow around 400 acres of cereals and 70 acres of potatoes.
Paughanstown Farm targets the prepack market and try to get crops that will wash for clients such as Wilson’s Country Potatoes, Keogh’s and Dennigans.
“They’re probably the three packers that I deal with and we supply two peelers as well, who are Michael Lavin in Mayo and John McGuinness in Bellewstown. I supply a good bit to John and have been with him from the beginning,” he said.
Most of the machinery that John uses is sourced from local dealers and, when it comes to tractors, he runs all Massey Fergusons.
Altogether, there are four in the fleet – three Seven Series and one Six Series – and it’s the favoured 6480 that John drives all the time himself.
The last three tractors he has purchased have been from WBD Farm Machinery Ltd and, when it comes to potato harvesting, he still uses an old GRIMME harvester which is self-propelled.
When it comes to the storage of potatoes at Paughanstown Farm, John always takes the most professional approach. However, 2022 proved to be a challenging year, as he explained:
“We store all our potatoes and the trade was challenging last year to say the least. That wasn’t just for me that was for everybody.
“You have stored potatoes right, for nearly 9 months of the year and still got no money for them. I have a fair idea of the reasons why this happened, and hopefully it will not happen in the future, someday day there could be none when they are wanted.
“We do have cold storage on the farm and we can store all our crop. All of our crop is all harvested into store and then we will sell it after that.
“Keogh’s would buy a right bit of stuff from us whenever we start selling and they’ll buy it as dug and it’s a grand way to sell your potatoes, even though you might get a little bit less for them as per tonne.”
Another colossal challenge at the moment for farmers out there is the price of fertiliser combined with fuel and machinery costs.
“The fertiliser is a serious cost on tillage farms and fuel is another huge cost,” said the Louth IFA chairman.
“On top of that, to replace tractors is absolutely nuts. It’s €1000 per horsepower for a new tractor and I don’t know where you’d ever see the money coming out of that tractor.
“It’s just mad but that’s where we are.”
As well as his combined roles on the farm and with the IFA, John also hosts farm open days for local students and school tours.
He also deals a little bit with Team Sprayers in the UK, operating a 27-metre trail sprayer that he sprays all his crops with, and he’s sold a couple of them around locally, citing the product as “very good at the applicators on potatoes planters and on harvesters.”
All of this helps keep John Carroll a busy man 12 months a year and he couldn’t do it without the support of his wife Nicola and four children.
“Nicola looks after probably the main part of the whole thing – the paperwork!
“Only for her. I can probably work hard and earn money, but I don’t know how to collect it. She looks after the VAT and the Revenue and stuff like that.
“It’s very hard to get staff right now as well. I’ve one full-time with me at the moment and the handiest way I find is to get contractors in even though I have tractors myself. I can’t get a guy to drive the tractor though and it’s becoming a huge issue.”
Away from the farm, John is a loving family man that supports and fundraises for Golden hearts youth club for young adults with Autism, the Maria Goretti Foundation a respite service centre for children with disabilities in Co Louth (www.mariagoretti.ie) and also has major love for cycling as a devoted member to the Whiteriver Wheelers club in Dunleer, Co Louth.
“To get out on the bike is an effective way to clear the head, many farmers hold onto stress, and I have found being out with a group every week is great for the head. Your mental health needs to be looked after.”
Mob: 086 248 9212
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 11 No 3, May/June 2023