Thursday, February 2, 2023
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Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
Journalism intern.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

‘We should be getting more money, but it is not there’ – ag contractor

As part of this week’s Ag Contractor of the Week segmentThat’s Farming profiles, Keith Pierce, who explains how he turned Covid-19 restrictions into a business opportunity in Co Wicklow. 

Keith Pierce from Wicklow was left with a dilemma of how he would fill his time when construction sites closed to halt the spread of Covid-19 in early 2020.

He embraced the opportunity buy purchasing a Komatsu D53B dumper, which he intended to repair and sell.

However, two local people requested his services, in the form of a three-month contract to finish off topsoil on landfills in Bohernabreen in Dublin.

According to Keith, it was a case of “one job led to another, and the business has been growing ever since”.

He bought a mulcher last year, and it has opened many doors to further work opportunities for his new venture.

“I started my agricultural work with a contractor from Tinahely. They used to do a lot of lime spreading, silage cutting, and slurry spreading services, and that is where I got my agricultural or hire work knowledge,” Keith told That’s Farming.

“My father worked on a farm, and I was with him when I was younger. My uncles all had farms, and I spent summers with them.”

Keith Pierce Dozer Hire built up its customer base through digital media and recommendations from others.

Wicklow ag contractor

Keith operates the business solely, serving customers within a 40-mile radius.

Mulching is his most sought-after service, which generally peaks from September to March.

In addition, he spreads slurry for another agricultural contractor and undertakes some bulldozer work on sites and farms throughout the year from March onwards.

“I have seven or eight clients that I work for with the bulldozer. Sometimes the contracts could be three weeks or three months; it all depends.”

“I only spread a small amount of slurry. I give another agricultural contractor a hand when he is busy and do a couple of days here and there, but that would be it with regards to slurry spreading.”

“To be honest, I hope that mulching brings me repeat customers. However, sometimes bulldozer work does not bring repeat customers because for me to level out a field or a piece of ground, I will never have to level it again.”

“However, if they have other work, they will get you back. Whereas you may have to repeat mulching every three or four years, it depends on how much it maintains from one year to the next.”

“Work has to completed to a high standard, and if the job is worth doing, it is worth doing right – that is the way I look at it.”

Farm machinery

Last January, he invested in a Valmet 8750 mega tractor and owns a range of machinery, including a Komatsu d53p, a Komatsu d65px, a mulcher and a slurry tanker.

He is passionate about machinery and repairs his tractor, regularly servicing and maintaining all equipment. “I feel you have to be able to do your own maintenance.”

He finds that overseeing maintenance himself cuts costs and he can perform such tasks to his own accord.

“Bulldozers are not like tractors, where you need to keep them new. For example, one machine I have is 1986 and is in as good of condition as a new one. It will do the same work if maintained to a certain standard and kept right.”

“I think they are not a machine you need to change every four or five years because they cost so much money, and it would not be viable.”

Challenges

Challenges that impact him in the industry include fuel prices, parts and filter costs and contractor rates.

“For example, it is costing me double the money to run any of the machines every day compared to what it was. For example, filters have all gone up by €10-€15.”

“So, you cannot increase your rates either and have to soak up costs, and hopefully, the thing will level out.”

“Yes, I did put a small increase on my rates, but you try to keep it to a minimum because if things get too expensive, no one will get you to do the work.”

“Honestly, it is not easy, but you must also facilitate the customer. We should be getting more money, but it is not there, and I know farmers do not have it either, so, at the end of the day, my wage has to be cut to keep the thing going.”

The future of Irish agricultural contracting

In his eyes, to operate a successful business, you must “keep your customer happy and try to keep the business running as smoothly as possible and avoid too much debt and work with what you have.”

“I would like to add more services to my business if I could. However, at the minute, the money is not in it, and if I could buy a machine or something every year and expand that way slowly, it would be enough for me because there is only me working.”

“Honestly, there is no point in me taking on work that I am not able to do or do not have time to do, so I will keep it simple.”

“In my opinion, the farmer will always require the contracting service. Also, I can see farmers doing more of their work as they used to years ago, but as regards silage cutting and slurry spreading services, I think they will always get a contractor in to do that.”

“I do not care what anyone says, but the government is to blame for all this inflation as the money they have on the tax is crazy.”

“If it keeps going the way it is, I can see a lot of agricultural contractors going out of business,” the agricultural contractor concluded.

To share your story like this Wicklow agricultural contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming – [email protected]

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