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Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
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‘Ag contracting is viable if we get our rates to where they need to be’

Wilson Agri Contracts 

As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segmentThat’s Farming, profiles J. Wilson Agri Contracts. Ryan Boyle discusses pursuing his passion, working with his uncle, juggling farming, tighter working windows, and rising input costs.

Over 15 years ago, Ryan Boyle took over the daily operations of his uncle John Wilson’s agricultural contracting business when he finished school.

Wilson Agri Contracts, which operates out of a yard in Armoy, County Antrim, has been in the field for 50 years.

His uncle, who is still involved in the business, established the company by baling for local farmers with an International baler and a red David Brown 990 tractor.

“Agricultural contracting was always something I was fond of from a young age. I liked machines, the silage aspect of the business and driving tractors. So, I was brought up with it, and it is all I know,” Ryan Boyle told That’s Farming.

“I picked it up as I went along, and I learned all I know from my uncle. One of the first jobs I did was rotovating, and then I moved on from that to power harrowing, carting, and mowing. Everything fell into place.”

Growing up, Ryan worked for his uncle as an operator drawing silage with a 2WD Renault or Case International tractor.

“John started with silage trailers that he made himself initially and then went from NC to Kane trailers. We have all Redrock trailers now with one Herron silage trailer.”

In addition, Ryan owns a beef enterprise and farms continental cows alongside a Charolais bull. He sells progeny as store cattle at Armoy Livestock Market.

Wilson Agri Contracts is based in Northern Ireland

Wilson Agri Contracts

Wilson Agri Contracts employs up to 2 workers daily and up to 8 operators at peak times, serving a 20-mile radius of Armoy.

According to Ryan, the business initially built up its customer base through word of mouth. However, the firm has broadened its marketing approach to include digital media in recent years.

The business offers a full pit silage service, whole crop harvesting, slurry (with an umbilical system and tankers), dung spreading, ploughing, reseeding, sowing and a plant hire service.

“We pride ourselves in giving service to the customer and the number of long-standing customers we have. That speaks for itself, and new work comes every year. It comes on the back of jobs we do for people they know.”

“We would have a large number of repeat customers. I suppose many customers would be there right from the foundation, but it is probably their sons/daughters now.”

“There have been many new customers since I took over, which has widened the business out, and we got a larger catchment area.”

Pit silage and arable work are among the firm’s most popular services.

The business cuts a large amount of pit silage annually, a service which has gained “quite significant” interest since John began operating it entirely.

Umbilical system slurry spreading also makes up a large share of its work.

“The dribble bars came in, and that is the way customers wanted it. So, I would say slurry is the one area our job has grown the quickest. It took off well, and we are really busy at it.”

In addition, the firm undertakes a significant amount of ploughing and sowing with another contractor and completes grass reseeding for them.

Wilson Agri Contracts is based in Northern Ireland

Farm machinery

His fleet includes a CLAAS Arion 620 tractor, a CLAAS Arion 630 tractor, a CLAAS ARION 640 tractor, two CLAAS ARION 650 tractors, an upcoming purchase of a CLAAS ARION 650 tractor and a CLAAS Axion 840 tractor.

“I have a person who does all the maintenance. Then, anything under warranty, the dealer, Erwin Agricare Limited, takes care of that.”

His slurry equipment includes a SlurryKat umbilical slurry system (with 1,200 metres of piping and a dribble bar), two 3,500-gallon Redrock tankers, a 2,500-gallon Redrock tanker, and an NC slurry pump.

Grass equipment includes one set of CLAAS Disco 8500 butterfly mowers, one set of CLAAS Disco 9200 mowers, a KRONE rake, a CLAAS JAGUAR 870 self-propelled forage harvester, three 18ft Redrock grain and silage trailers, one 18ft Herron silage and grain trailer and a JCB 418s loading shovel.

Furthermore, tillage equipment includes a Pöttinger onepass seed drill, two four-furrow Kverneland 150B ploughs, and a Rabe power harrow.

In addition, the business uses a Hitachi FH130 excavator, a Kane WBDT 15t half pipe dump trailer, and a Herron industrial low loader tri-axle trailer for their plant hire work.

Wilson Agri Contracts is based in Northern Ireland

Challenges

Challenges impacting the business include diesel and diesel exhaust fluid prices, machinery and replacement part costs, weather conditions, and tighter working windows.

“Machines are increasing in price all the time. You are talking in the mid-£50,000s for a rake this year.”

“Tractors are rising in price all the time and have got a massive lift. Last year, you could have been buying a tractor for £75,000-80,000, and the equivalent tractor today is £100,000.”

“Fuel has almost doubled in price. Diesel has gone from 65p/L to £1.30/L. The harvester holds 1,000 litres, and you get that through it every day. So, tractors would consume anywhere from 15-20 litres of diesel an hour.”

“Ad Blue is another addition then. Every new vehicle that comes nowadays has Ad Blue on it, and that is rising in price as well.”

“In my opinion, work is very seasonal, and it is all being done at the one time. But then, I suppose the more customers you get, the tighter it gets.”

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Plans and the future of Irish agricultural contracting

Ryan believes “staff and customer satisfaction” are the key elements of running a successful agricultural contracting business.

“So, if you do a good job, you get repeat customers, and if you have a good name out there, you will always get work.”

Ryan said he intends to stay in agricultural contracting for as long as possible, ride out whatever storms come the firm’s way and continue pursuing his passion for the sector.

“Agricultural contracting is a viable business if we can get our rates to where they need to be in line with the inflation of machines and everything else. It is like every business; it needs to add up.”

“In my opinion, at the moment, it is tough to say whether it is a viable business.”

“At the minute, I do not think it is viable with the rising costs, but hopefully, we can get over this hurdle and get into a situation where it is a level playing field for everyone.”

“The war in Ukraine has a big impact on a lot of costs. However, I also believe there are cost rises to do with our government, and maybe the war over there is getting the blame for more than it should be.”

“I think a lot of these government taxes and what not, need to come down,” the agricultural contractor concluded.

To share your story like this NI agricultural contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming – catherina@thatsfarming.com

See more agricultural contracting profiles

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