McKeown Agri, based in Dromiskin, Co. Louth, is run by All-Ireland ploughing champions, Conor McKeown, and his grandfather, Pat.
The pair offer contracting services alongside their 200-acre tillage enterprise, growing mainly winter and spring barley in rotation with oats and winter wheat.
Conor’s main objective at present is to expand the business further. “My grandfather would have been the first in the family to start contracting and we would normally contract about 250-acres of tillage work.”
“Now I’m after pushing on and I have about four days’ work every week. We’re spraying or fertilising around 50-acres a day at the minute,” he added.
His work currently is heavily based on spraying and fertilising using the latest GPS technology, but he is already in demand for more tillage work when it gets underway in the coming weeks.
Currently a level-8 ag science student in Letterkenny IT, Conor said the current coronavirus pandemic has allowed him the opportunity to expand the business and explore how far he can push it once he finishes his degree.
In the future, he plans to become an agronomist and offer both contracting and advisory services in tandem, while expanding his client base.
“It’s something I always wanted to do and there is an opportunity for it in this area. The local grain store is about 15 miles away, so I see an opportunity to open up a grain store as well in the future.”
Services are not limited to tillage, as he takes on silage work as well once the season comes around. Using his baling and raking machinery, he joined up with a local silage contractor with the hope of expanding that side of the business also.
Most of the machinery coming in their farm gate will be green and yellow, as they prefer the tried and trusted John Deere over any other machine.
“The local dealer here is John Deere and they’ve always offered us a good service, so we’ve been loyal to them throughout the years.”
“Some people say they’re expensive, but you get what you pay for. We never have any problems with them.”
“We have 3 John Deere tractors; a 6140R, a 6110M and a 6330, which is my pride and joy. We have an 895 Case with row crop tyres for spraying as well. Our two main combines are a 2058 John Deere, with a 16-foot cut, and a 955 with a 12-foot cut.”
The 6330 is left on the plough all-year-round, as Conor uses it when competing in ploughing competitions across the country. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, he was the All-Ireland champion in 2017 and 2018.
“Grandad has been 59 years ploughing this year; hrepresented Ireland in the world competition in 1970. I’ve always been following behind him,” Conor explained.
Expanding the business has been going well, according to the 20-year-old, who said the local grainstore have been helpful in turning potential clients in his direction. However, dry weather this spring has been damaging to the crop and as a result, limiting their business.
“We’re missing every drop of rain that has come into the country. We haven’t had rain in this area for 5 weeks and we have a prevailing northeast wind, so everywhere is just dry.”
“The crop is suffering badly. We have a lot of spraying to do on spring crops, but we would do more harm than good by going in.”
“When it’s not getting rain, there’s no point putting fertiliser on it because you’re just throwing money at it.”
“Our normal clients that we have had aren’t ringing us either, because they’re not going to throw money on it if it’s not going to grow. We’re in need of rain.”
The constant loss of chemicals was also highlighted by the Louth man as a challenge to grain growers. Not being able to protect their crops has made it increasingly expensive to produce the grain.
“This year, we lost Chlorothalonil which will affect a lot of wheat growers with Septoria and Ramularia in the barley.”
“Last year we lost a seed dressing to protect from aphids as well. Luckily enough it hasn’t been a bad year for aphids this year but in a normal winter we would be struggling.”
McKeown is satisfied with the number of repeat clients, but still wants to expand further. He said the quality of the work that they do speaks for itself and is the reason for their success to date.
“We have plenty of experience between the two of us. We pride ourselves in everything we do, and we do everything to the best as if it was our own.”
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