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Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
Journalism intern.
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‘We are better off not doing the job if we are not making a profit’ – contractor

Clare Agricultural Contractor 

As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segmentThat’s Farming, profiles Shane Hughes Agri and Feeds. Shane discusses leaving his job to take over the family firm, reducing the firm’s services, cutting 2,000-acres of pit silage, rising input costs, and his outlook on the sector.

In 1995, Shane Nolan left working in an electronic firm in the capital full-time to take the reins of the family agricultural contracting business from his father, Jimmy, with his brother, Ronan.

The Clare agricultural contractor later took over the business entirely and expanded it.

During humble beginnings, some of the machinery he invested in included a John Deere 550 baler, a McHale 991 wrapper, a Zetor Crystal 8011 tractor, and a John Deere 2140 tractor.

He later purchased a John Deere 3040 4WD tractor, a John Deere 3050 tractor, a John Deere 3350 tractor, a John Deere 6800s tractor, a John Deere 6600s tractor and a new John Deere 6610 tractor.

“My father was the first person around with a round baler at the time. He bought a John Deere 545 new, and I bought mine second-hand,” he told That’s Farming.    

“There was an opening for baling and wrapping services in my area, and there was money to be made back that time. So, I was always interested in agricultural contracting from a young age.”

“My father used to have three square balers when I was younger. I used to drive one, my father drove another, and my brothers, Michael, or Donal, drove the third one. Also, my father used to go on hire cutting corn and spraying.”

In addition, Shane farms a large tillage farm that grows spring barley, beet, winter barley, and oats and also sells beet.

In the mid-1990s, he acquired a cereals number. “I had 500-acres of tillage, but I have cut back dramatically because of weather and low prices.”

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Clare agricultural contractor 

Shane Nolan Agri and Feeds serves the farmers of Clare and Galway. He rolls barleys and oats during the winter and harvests up to 30-acres of beet in October and November.

In addition, the business offers pit silage, hedge-cutting, ploughing, tilling, sowing, spraying, fertiliser spreading and beet harvesting services. He has started offering a stone picking service this year.

He employs 4-5 full-time workers during the winter and 12-14 people at peak times that also work in his garage, which repairs machines for customers.

“I would never have gone looking for work; it is all word of mouth. I maintained my customer base. It is nearly all repeat customers; it is rare enough that you get new customers.”

“I gave up baling at the end of last season and slurry. I was too busy, and I had too much going on and then trying to get staff in some cases.”

“A local contractor over the road from me is taking over the baling service. So, I will help him out whatever way I can.”

The business completes 2,000-acres of pit silage, having gradually built up their customer base each year.

“There were always people getting out of agricultural contracting. We came when customers asked us to come, and we got the job done when they wanted, and they were happy. We provide a good service, and that is how we got to where we are.”

“Furthemore, we do a good job, so we maintain our customers. Honestly, we have lost a few customers to price, but we are better off not doing the job if we are not making a profit.”

“It is hard work because no matter what price you charge, there are people that will undercut you. In general, farmers are not looking for the best price; they are looking for the cheapest price.”

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Farm machinery

His fleet includes seven John Deere 6920 tractors, a John Deere 6620 tractor, a John Deere 7920 tractor, a John Deere 6610 tractor, a John Deere 6410 tractor, a John Deere 2140 tractor, and a John Deere 1040 tractor.

“We maintain the tractors ourselves. We have a fully kitted workshop, and we do a lot of repairs for customers, e.g. engines, transmissions and wiring. Moreover, we try to specialise in the John Deere brand as much as possible.”

His grass equipment includes a John Deere 7480 self-propelled forage harvester, a KRONE BIG M mower, a KRONE rake, John Deere balers (original items), a Tanco wrapper, four 22ft Herron silage trailers, a Herron 18ft silage trailer, a Herron 16.5ft silage trailer, and an L70E – Volvo, – F series wheel loader.

Some of the tillage equipment includes a Kivi-Pekka stone picker, a five-furrow reversible Kverneland plough, a Mandam 4m disc harrow, a 3m Vaderstad Rapid 300-400C/S drill, a Cross 6.3m ring roller and a Kuhn MDS .2 hydraulic fertiliser spreader.

He also uses a John Deere W 540 combine (with a 16ft header), a John Deere 955 combine harvester, a Ferry telescopic hedge-cutter, an Armer Salmon beet harvester, a John Deere 15 metre mounted sprayer, and a John Deere 24m trailed sprayer.

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Challenges

Challenges Shane faces include rising input costs, the lack of credit facilities for farmers, and to get a carbon tax rebate.

“I have noticed colossal changes in my fuel bill. We are paying around 1.30c/L for diesel, but whether that is going to come down, I do not know.”

“The government have given us no incentive whatsoever. They gave white diesel 15c of an excise cut and agricultural diesel got 2c. That is a slap in the face.”

“For example, if you take my silage harvester, it takes 1,100 litres of diesel to fill it, and that lasts about a day-and-a-half. So, diesel is gone from 70c/L to exactly doubled in price.”

“Any of my tractors take about 220 litres, but it depends on what the tractor is doing. So, my fuel volume is going to be substantially down this year, my work is going to be down, but my fuel cost is going to be well up.”

“I suppose because I will not have three balers, a mower, a rake going this year, that is going to reduce my diesel volume, but who knows when diesel prices are going to stop increasing.”

Diesel has not gone up that much globally in price; the government is creaming it. I think around 51%-60% of diesel is tax.”

“They use the excuse that it is Europe but is not Europe. Every government have their guidelines and has a direction, but our government do not want to stray off the direction they are given.”

“These directives are a guideline for you to travel along this path. You do not have to stick to the path; you can veer left or right.”

“In my opinion, the biggest problem we have is with our government. It is not the ministers running it; it is the civil servants. Until the civil servants realise, they work for us, and we do not work for them, we pay their salaries, we are finished in Ireland.”

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Plans and the future of Irish agricultural contracting

Shane believes the key elements of running a successful agricultural contracting business are “watching” your costs and having a “good” customer relationship.

Shane added that he feels that “more and more people are going to get out of agricultural contracting because of labour shortages, rising costs, and not being paid in a timely fashion”.

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

See more agricultural contracting profiles

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