As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Collins Agricultural Contracting Limited. Eoin Collins discusses juggling teaching with agricultural contracting, rising input costs, the importance of being honest and open with your customers and his aim to make 16,000 bales by 2027.
Michael Collins, from Kilfenora, County Clare, established Collins Agricultural Contracting Limited 28 years ago by offering baling, pit silage and hedge-cutting services.
He is also a full-time farmer and has 40 Charolais-cross and Limousin-cross suckler cows that he grazes on 300-acres – with a lot of this ground being marginal land.
His son, Eoin, is a full-time teacher at Ennis Community College.
He studied a four-year Bachelor of Arts (honour) degree at Mary Immaculate College from September 2016 to June 2018 and a Professional Master of Education (PME) at NUI Galway for two years.
His father originally bought a Welger RP200 baler and later invested in a CLAAS Rollant 254 and a McHale F5500 baler.
“In 1994, people were going from pit silage, and they were heading towards bales. He had a few good years with the Welger baler. He seems to have got into baling at the right time,” his son, Eoin Collins, a Pallaskenry Agricultural College Green Cert graduate, told That’s Farming.
“The time that my father got into agricultural contracting and the fact pits were becoming less popular were a part of building up a customer base.”
“I always wanted something to do with machinery from a young age.”
“So, I was with my father from a young age in the tractor when we had the summer off from primary school. It was a novelty to be gone for a day sitting up with my father in the tractor cab when he was cutting or baling silage.”
“My father used to have different people driving the wrapper for him, so I always went with them too.”
“I always had teaching in mind, but I knew I wanted to do some sort of driving, so, thankfully, it works out well to have the weeks in the summer to go baling. So, it is great really and a nice balance.”
Collins Agricultural Contracting Limited
His father employs his sons, Eoin, Eanna, Colm and sister, Maeve, and enlists the help of additional operators at peak times.
The business serves a 10-mile radius of Kilfenora and travels to Kilnaboy, and carries out a small amount of work in Kilshanny and Corofin.
“You try to plan things out as good as you can and try to be honest with customers. So, we try to accommodate them as good as we can and ring them too to let them know if anything is changing.”
“We have 85 farmers on the books for the last two years. They are all repeat customers. We are lucky farmers are good to us as well. They know we are doing our best for them.”
“Customer retention is hugely important. We are lucky that work is all local, so the less road you have to do, the better.”
Word of mouth plays a significant role in forming the firm’s customer base.
“I think once your name is good and you are providing a good service, and you are doing it a fair price for yourself and the farmer, customers tend to come back. They are happy with you in that way.”
Their services include baling and hedge-cutting. This work suits Eoin’s teaching job as his summer holidays coincides with the silage season from June to September.
The family made 4,000 bales during the early 2000s and just shy of 11,000 bales last year – but this amount can vary annually.
“I think during my father’s busiest year in 1995/1996, he made 10,000 or 11,000 bales with one baler and wrapper; you would not do that today.”
“In 2016, we got going at the baling rightly when we put two balers on the road. We bought our first McHale F5500 baler in 2016, and it worked alongside a CLAAS Rollant baler.”
“In 2018, we changed the CLAAS baler and purchased a second McHale F5500 baler. We have been working well since thank God.”
The family’s tractor fleet includes a 2012 Kubota M128X, a 2009 Kubota M108s, a 2000 New Holland TM135, and a 2005 Zetor Forterra 10641.
“We complete a certain amount of maintenance such as changing oil or filters or giving them a check over.”
“We are very lucky to have David Garrihy Tractors Limited, our garage in Ennistymon. They sold us the tractors and are a good support to us for breakdown and servicing.”
Other items include a KRONE EasyCut 3210 CV | 3210 CRi Krone 3210 mower, McHale F5500 baler, a McHale 991 high-speed bale wrapper and a McConnel PA93 hedge-cutter.
Challenges in the sector
Increasing machinery prices, fuel costs, and weather are among the challenges for Eoin and his family.
“It is hard to know who is going to foot the bill. For example, the price we charge the farmer has to go up. If diesel costs are going to get twice as expensive, in price, then the bales are going to get a small bit dearer to make.”
“In my eyes, if the farmer is not getting too much money for their weanlings, it will be a funny year more than any other year.”
“The working windows seem to be tighter now than I remember before. There are only three busy weeks with the baling that are your full-on days. These are the last two weeks of June and the first week of July.”
“So, that is a challenge too because it is very hard to be relying on weather.”
Eoin believes being honest and open with customers, managing your finances and keeping your machinery fresh are the key elements of running a successful agricultural contracting business.
“I feel to give customers a ring and keep them updated is important.”
“If you are going to be an hour late or an hour early, let your customers know. It is important to be open and honest and let your customers know if you are changing plans.”
Business plans and the future of Irish agricultural contracting
Eoin and his family plan to continue the business and introduce rowing to their list of services this summer with an upcoming purchase of a KRONE 20ft rotary rake.
In five years, they aim to reach 16,000 bales, take on more work, and keep their fleet fresh.
“I suppose if more work comes our way, we will have a go. However, it is a very uncertain time to be talking about expansion with the way prices have gone.”
“Farming is in for a very uncertain year, and if input costs continue to rise, that will have to be passed onto the farmer, and that is just the way it is.”
“If costs go up by 25% and that has to be put onto the farmer’s bill. Unless they are getting 20-25% extra for their beef or milk, there is a gap there that will have to be filled somehow.”
“It is very hard to know the future of Irish agricultural contracting, and it is very uncertain.”
“There seems to be more people getting out of agricultural contracting locally, and there does not seem to be people starting up at it. We are lucky that we are very established, and it is heading for 30 years since my father established the business.”
“In my view, it would be hard for a young person in their 20s to buy an outfit to complete 8,000-10,000 bales. If you have to buy two or three tractors and machinery, you could bury any amount of money into it.”
“I suppose it is hard for a person starting with nothing. However, the well-established agricultural contractors have a better chance of weathering the storm if there are not the same margins for a few years,” the agricultural contractor concluded.”
To share your story like this Clare ag contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]
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