No frills; no nonsense

17 Jun , 2015  

Agricultural contracting is about getting the job done. It’s not about flashy ’14-reg tractors and machinery. Clare contractor Shane Nolan provides an efficient, cost-effective and dependable service using an exceptionally well-maintained fleet. We spoke to Shane about his common-sense, no-nonsense and professional approach.

The thing about 14-reg tractors and machinery is that somebody, somewhere along the line, has to foot the bill for them. He operates a fleet of older but superbly-maintained equipment, which enables him to provide an excellent service at a fair price. Little wonder his services have proven so popular for the past two decades!

Having operated under the eponymous Shane Nolan banner for the previous 19 years, the Clare man officially set up Shane M Nolan Contracts Ltd. on July 1st this year. Reflecting on the genesis of the business, he points out that farming and contracting were very much in the blood: “My late father James would have been at it when we were kids, but I worked in electronics in Dublin up until 1995. I had been at the contracting part-time from 1991/’92 but went into it full time in ’95 after  my father retired, working from Finavara in County Clare. My father would have run a small enough business; those were different times back then…

“I started off small myself. The first piece of equipment I bought was a baler and I used my father’s tractor. I added a bit each year and built the fleet up gradually. In 19 years, I have only ever bought two new tractors – one in 1996 and the other in 2000. I still have the ’00-reg; I traded the ’06 in a couple of years ago after 16,000 hours.”

In Shane’s eyes, brand new tractors are over-rated. It’s impossible to argue with his logic… “In the current climate, I don’t believe in being flashier than the guy next door. This is a business. If you fork out massive money on a top-of-the-range new tractor and baler you won’t get your money back. I prefer to go for fresh second-hand tractors. Two- and three-year-old tractors have depreciated so much that it is worth your while buying them. If they are properly maintained, they are good as new.”

To this end, Shane oversees his own well equipped workshop, where he is fully up to speed on all aspects of John Deere maintenance, servicing and repairs. A full agri and farm machinery auto electrical service is provided not just to his own fleet but also to outside contractors and farmers.

Shane takes great pride in his fleet and every machine is preserved in immaculate condition at all times. The fleet comprises nine John Deere tractors (another couple are hired in at the height of the season), four John Deere balers, two combine harvesters, one self-propelled harvester, three 22ft trailers (with access to a fourth), a Krone Big M mower and a modified silage harvester with a mower on the front of it.

“My father bought one of the combines new in ’81 and I bought the second one in 2012,” he notes. “I still work the ’81 one. It’s a John Deere 955 and it still goes like a watch. I wouldn’t sell it for love or money. When you spend a few quid a year on a machine it makes all the difference. When something small goes wrong, you fix it as it happens and you don’t let problems gang up on you. That’s the secret – fix as you go. Maintenance and prevention are big things with me.

“My newest tractor is a ’06; generally, the rest of them are ’00-’06. I’d say I have one of the oldest fleets of tractors in the area. There are young lads in the area with ’12- and ’13-reg tractors and I honestly don’t know how they are paying for them. It beggars belief.”

Efficiency is at the heart of Shane Nolan’s long-running operation. “We do our level best to keep things as efficient as possible right across the board. For example, we try to work in a circle as much as possible when doing baling and silage and we try not to deviate from that. Time and stupidity are the biggest expenses for a contractor – and for his customers. We try to eliminate the stupid mistakes by planning properly. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

“Most of my work is within a 25-30km radius of Finavara. I would have one or two clients who are 35km away but the vast majority of them would be within 10 or 15 km. You have to be practical, too. I won’t travel 20km for ten acres, but I’d go 30 km for 100 acres.”

As well as operating one of the most reliable green fleets in the Banner County, Shane also does tillage farming himself. “There was a lot of barley and oats tillage going on here in the area some years back so I purchased the tillage gear to do that work,” he reflects. “When the farmers decided to get out of tillage, I didn’t want to sell the equipment, so I started taking land myself. I now have 500+ acres of barley and my brother in law Peter has about 250 acres, so that keeps us busy, as well as the second-cut silage, and baling. It has all come together this year, everything on top of each other…”

At the height of the season, Shane Nolan provides gainful employment to a crew of twelve, all of whom are going through the books and paying PAYE and PRSI. “We do our best to try and do everything right, which is novel in this line of work,” he notes. “We also send out invoices and monthly statements, not to be pushy but because farmers genuinely forget. This is not a demand for money; it’s proper accounting procedure. Some farmers might not appreciate getting them but contracting isn’t fun and games anymore. It has to be treated like a professional business and everything has to be done properly. The day of the flashy tractor is gone.

“All loyalty is gone out of the business too. Farmers have such a choice now and they want things done as soon as possible. You sometimes have to bend over backwards to keep them happy. We might be a little bit dearer than some of the competition but we provide a better service and a quicker one. ‘Mickey Joe’ down the road will still be cheaper but my fleet is fully contracting insured and taxed, as are my employees, and I have public liability insurance as well. We’re cutting no corners when it comes to safety.”

Looking to the future, Shane hopes to see the industry properly regulated – but he won’t hold his breath on that one! as the Government refuses to recognise that they are losing millions in lost revenue despite our constant lobbying them. “My strategy will be to continue to run as tight a ship as possible,” he concludes. “By their non-action, Simon Coveney, the IFA and other farming organisations will kill Irish agriculture. They need to do something about the unfair actions of processors and retailers. These are very worrying times for farmers and contractors alike.

“As things stand, the black economy will wipe out the entire sector (GOVERNMENT WAKE UP). No matter how cheap I quote a job, there is always somebody else who is prepared to do it cheaper – because they aren’t paying their dues. You could get drawn into a very dangerous game – but my machines will stay in the yard unless I can turn a profit.

“The future is very bleak unless regulation is fully enforced. In order to be a contractor, I believe you should have to be tax compliant, registered, and fully insured and follow proper procedures. It’s a disgrace when some of us have to do it right while others don’t bother, and get away with it.”

Shane M Nolan Contracts Ltd.,
County Clare.

Email: [email protected]
Mobile: 086 6008139

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 2 No 4, September 2014