As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming profiles Sheehan Bros Agricultural Contractors and Plant Hire. Michael Sheehan, agri contractor, discusses working alongside his brother, making 30,000 bales, health and safety in agricultural contracting and changes in the industry.
The Sheehan brothers, from Clonmel, County Tipperary, operated a plant hire business with four diggers and seven dump trailers until the Celtic Tiger but now mainly offer an agricultural contracting service.
From 1972 to 1973, Michael attended Clonakilty Agricultural College and decided not to stay at home after his studies, having come from a family-of-six.
Michael went from there with two decisions: work with a company or establish his own business, but chose option two.
In 1973, he started spreading agricultural lime for John A.Woods for the first two years with a 674 International tractor that he purchased brand-new for £3,000 and a Bredal lime spreader for £900 for a rate of 45p/t of lime.
This contract came through a salesperson that visited his yard selling lime and required someone to offer lime spreading services.
His brother, Tom, joined the business in 1974, and in 1976 they became a limited company, Sheehan Brothers Enterprises Limited company.
They offered lime spreading services alongside mowing, turning, and baling hay during the summer for neighbours, a job their father completed alongside farming.
They carried out this summer work using a PZ mower, a Lely hay turner and a B45 McCormack International baler initially and upgraded over time from these machines to Welger balers.
In addition, the brothers farm 500-acres of cereals, most of which is rented ground and in the past harvested over 1,000-acres of tillage.
“I always had a passion for agriculture. However, I suppose there were not too many options in the country at that stage; you either left the country or started your own business,” Michael Sheehan told That’s Farming.
Sheehan Brothers Enterprises Limited
Sheehan Brothers Enterprises Limited employ two workers daily and up to six operators during peak times.
The firm serves a 15-mile-radius of Clonmel, offering the following services:
- Slurry spreading;
- Dung spreading;
- Pit silage;
- Silage baling;
- Corn cutting.
The firm’s most popular service is silage, as they make 30,000 bales and cut up to 2,000-acres of pit silage. Slurry spreading is their next most popular service.
“The only operation we do not do is anything to do with beet. We grow it, and we sell some beet to farmers.”
“In my view, a customer is a free agent – they can do what they want themselves. All we can do is do the best job we can.”
“Your reputation is built on your last job. If you do good work, then your reputation is good. If you do not do good work, and it could be one bad job, you could kill your reputation.”
“We have a large number of repeat customers. Most of our customers are very loyal. Price is very important to younger people, but the reliability of service and a job well done is more important to older people.”
The brother’s fleet includes a John Deere 7430 Premium tractor, a John Deere 6920 tractor and a John Deere 6155R tractor.
They also have a Massey Ferguson 7719 tractor, a Case IH Puma 165 tractor, a New Holland T7.235 tractor, a New Holland T6030 tractor, a Case Puma 240 tractor and a Massey Ferguson 7726 tractor.
They maintain most tractors themselves and have different dealers for different machines and use a mechanic, Freddie Murphy, who comes out with a mobile repair unit.
Other equipment they have include a Redrock 4,000-gallon slurry tanker, a Joskin 11000 ME 2500-gallon slurry tanker, two HiSpec 2,000 SA-R slurry tankers, a Mastek umbilical system (with a 12m dribble bar and 5km of piping) and an NC agitator.
Their grass equipment includes Pöttinger Novacat butterfly mowers, a 50ft Kuhn single-rotor rake, a 30ft Kuhn rake and a 30ft Kuhn tedder.
They also have a KRONE BIG X 630 forage harvester, two Triaxle Dooley grain and silage trailers, three Broughan twin-axle silage trailers and a JCB 435 wheel loader.
Their machinery for baling includes a McHale Fusion 3 Plus integrated baler wrapper and a Krone square baler.
Other equipment includes two HiSpec Xcel 1250 rear discharge manure spreaders, a Kverneland plough, a LEMKEN Zirkon power harrow, a Lely Accord one-pass drill, a Kuhn Premia mounted seed drill and a Moore unidrill.
Challenges and changes in agricultural contracting
Challenges the brothers face include machinery prices, the availability of “good-quality labour and sourcing parts.
The brothers noted machinery sizes are one significant change they have witnessed since they become involved in the industry.
“We started with a 70hp tractor. Now, today, a 70hp tractor will only be for scraping yards around the farm.”
Other changes include machines kitted with technology and shorter working windows.
“Machines have become so sophisticated. Firstly, you need to be up-to-date and secondly, the backup you get from your machinery dealer has to be second-to-none.”
“There is nothing we can do ourselves as far as repairs are concerned, whereas we used to do our repairs years ago.”
The brothers believe health and safety with operators and machinery are the most important key element of running an agricultural contracting business.
“For example, I do not believe in putting operators at risk and working very long hours. They work a long enough day, and that is it.”
“I do not believe in night-time work; it does not pay – not in my book anyway. From a health and safety point of view, I would not like to send home any kid injured.”
The brothers plan to continue upgrading machinery annually and in five years, hope to have a business “surviving, prospering, and still offering a good” service” to farmers.
He said there is a “scarcity” of contractors in the country because work is very “hard”. Furthermore, “in his experience, most younger people are not willing to take on those responsibilities”.
“We are fortunate that we have a family member, Philip, interested and involved in the business.”
“However, the only way we will be able to sustain the business is with the support of the farming community into the future.”
“In my view, it is like any other business you must make it viable if you want to survive. But, unfortunately, that means you have to collect your money in a timely fashion and issue invoices at regular intervals throughout the year.”
“There is going to be a better future than there was for us, when we started, we had nothing.”
He feels there is a “necessity” for agricultural contractors as farmers will require them for some services with labour shortages and machinery prices.
Michael sees a certain future for the industry but asks will there be a sea change in farmers’ attitudes.
“Contractors are not the enemy as we try our best to provide a good, reliable service.”
“I think at this stage, farmers are going to have to wake up to the fact that they cannot be asking a contractor to carry them for some many years. They have to get paid in a timely fashion.”
“Farmers are going to have to make a big commitment to their agricultural contractor and a big commitment to pay their bills on time,” the agricultural contractor concluded.
To share your story like this agri contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming – [email protected]