As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Derwin Heaslip from Clement Heaslip Plant Hire and Agri Contractors. He discusses formerly cutting 1,000-acres of pit silage, making 10,000 silage bales, investing in an umbilical system, and his views on agricultural contracting.
Clement Heaslip’s agricultural contracting business began when he saw an opening for land drainage, digger work, and pit silage.
The Crossdoney, County Cavan native employs his son, Derwin, brother Willie, and three part-time workers at peak times.
In 1998, his son, Derwin, attended Ballyhaise Agricultural College attaining a Green Certificate and returning home after working for a local contractor.
“My father began completing digger work with a Hymac 10-tonne digger and a CAT bulldozer completing land drainage,” his son, Derwin Heaslip, told That’s Farming.
“Then, he started cutting silage with a double-chop harvester. My father always had an interest in contracting and worked with other people with machinery, and then he went out on his own.”
“Farming is a family tradition for us. We have 25 Charolais and Limousin-cross suckler cows as a sideline.”
Clement Heaslip Plant Hire and Agri Contractors
The business offers plant hire, land drainage, site clearances, hedge-cutting, round baling, slurry spreading (an umbilical system and dribble bar), and reseeding.
Good weather and ground conditions attracted a lot more work to the firm’s plant hire arm this year.
The business previously cut 1,000-acres of pit silage with 14ft tandem-axle Johnston silage trailers, JF 1100 precision-chop harvester, plus a tractor and buck rake.
“My father gave up silage cutting because digger work got busier, and he wanted to concentrate more on it.”
“Another contractor, James Lord, started out cutting silage, and he let him take it over.”
“We do an average of 8,000-10,000-silage bales a year. The first year I started baling, I did 3,500 bales. It has grown since that figure in 2008.”
“We start slurry spreading the first week of February, and we are at slurry constantly until the end of March or middle of April. Then, we complete a good run of slurry spreading with our umbilical system.”
“When you have a farming background behind you, you have an idea of how farmers want their work done. If you do work the way you would like the work done on your farm, it gives you a good advantage.”
The company serves a 30-mile-radius of Cavan, covering Longford, Leitrim, Cavan, and Westmeath.
“We have work all-year-round. So, agricultural contracting would be seasonal (spring and summer), and from now, you get into digger work.”
“Digger work keeps you going over the winter period until you get back into slurry spreading.”
“I always take pride in doing a good job and hoping the customer is happy with the work I do. It is crucial to the business to leave a good job after you.”
“I have the same customer base every year. The umbilical system brought new customers. If you tell your customer when you will be with them, try and stay to when you say you will be there.”
In earlier years, the business bought two Ford County tractors, a Ford TW20 and a Ford 776 tractor.
Twelve years ago, the company purchased several New Holland tractors (a New Holland 7840) and a John Deere 6910.
“In the 2000s, we bought several John Deere tractors, and we still have a few New Holland TM series tractors.”
“We have gone to a few Massey Ferguson tractors in the last few years.”
Their current tractor fleet includes a Ford TW15, New Holland TM125, New Holland TM165, New Holland TM155, John Deere 6910, Massey Ferguson 6499, and a Massey Ferguson 7618.
Their farm machinery includes a Kverneland Tarrup 10ft front and back mowers, a KRONE 10ft trailed mower, (2016) KUHN Combi baler, McHale F560 baler, and a McHale 991 BJS wrapper.
They also own an AgQuip umbilical system, AgQuip 7.5m dribble bar, Bower pump, Redrock 2000-gallon slurry tanker, and a Redrock 2500-gallon slurry tanker.
His plant hire equipment includes a Hitachi ZX200 20-tonne digger, Hitachi ZX120 20-tonne digger, Hitachi EX30, 3-tonne mini digger, CAT 312 15-tonne digger, and a CASE 130 13-tonne digger.
Other machinery include a SEPI mulcher, saw head, Redrock 16-tonne dump trailer, Thompson 16-tonne dump trailer, LEMKEN four-furrow reversible plough, LELY 3m power harrow, and a Vicon sower.
“Machines would be serviced regularly when their time is up. We service tractors ourselves at home.”
“I am lucky my brother, Mark, is a mechanic with Martins Garage. Therefore, he can complete maintenance for me.”
Derwin outlined why the company moved to use an umbilical system LESS application method.
“Dairy cow numbers increased; there had been more slurry, and ground conditions got wet.”
“You could not get out with slurry tankers when farmer’s tanks were full of slurry, and the only way was the umbilical system.”
“It created work for us at that earlier time of the year. So, you can get going at slurry in February. With a slurry tanker, you might not get out until March or April.”
Derwin discusses the disadvantages and advantages of being an agricultural contractor.
“When weather is good, everyone wants you, and you have to pull out all the stops and try to get through as much work as you can in a short time.”
“You will always have your odd day with breakages and punctures when the pressure is on. You always have something that would go wrong that holds you back.”
“The biggest challenges in agricultural contracting are the prices of machinery, fuel, tyres, and parts. Getting help, in general, for the business is getting harder as well.”
“There is something different every day, and each day brings a different challenge. It is a new way of life out in the countryside, and you are meeting different people every day.”
“You are not stuck at one job, day in and day out. Contracting has become very weather permitting, and you have quite an awful workload to get through in a few days.”
Derwin intends to maintain the firm’s size, keep his machinery fleet modern by introducing a new KUHN Combi baler, and continue to provide a “high-quality” service to clients.
Derwin believes that to be successful in the field, “you must not be afraid of putting in long work hours, and you have to be able to work long hours when the weather is good”.
“Hopefully, the business will be going the same as it is in five-ten years. The firm is going fairly well as it is, and we plan to keep our same customer base and customers happy.”
“My future view would be to stay at agricultural contracting; I like it. When you have an interest in it, you stay at it, and that is it.”
“Farming will always be there. However, there will be many changes over the next couple of years with this new CAP reform coming in.”
“I believe there will be much shorter seasons for slurry spreading and activities like that.”
“In the next 5-10 years, you will probably see smaller farmers getting out and bigger farmers getting larger,” the agricultural contractor concluded.
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