As part of this week’s Ag Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Con Lucey Agri and Plant Hire, Cork. Con discusses finding his niche one-passing, completing 12,000 silage bales, 1,100-acres pit silage, challenges he faces, his one regret establishing his business, and advice for aspiring agricultural contractors.
Con Lucey, from Macroom, County Cork, established his agricultural contracting business over fifteen years ago.
He started this journey by purchasing a Deutz-Fahr Agrotron 165 tractor, Rabe Power harrow, and an Accord drill.
He financed this through CLAAS Financial Services and Bank of Ireland.
“There was no one-pass system around here at that time. There was no tillage around here as it was mostly grass seeding. We did about 500-600-acres,” Con Lucey told That’s Farming.
“The following year, I bought a JF trailed harvester. We kind of stuck at that for a few years. In 2015, then, we went into wagon silage. There are three silage wagons now.”
“I was always stone mad for tractors. It was mostly baling my father was completing. He was involved in pit and single-chop silage years ago.”
“I mostly drove a wrapper during the summer. I grew up on a suckler farm with mostly Charolais cattle. We have a Charolais bull, and there would be a share of Charolais cows. We sell progeny as weanlings.”
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Con Lucey Agri and Plant Hire employ two full-time staff and extra workers at peak times. The business serves a 15-mile radius of Macroom.
“We built up our customer base through word of mouth. We never did any direct advertising.”
“All our customers kind of stick with us; no customer really leaves.”
“So, it would be all repeat customers. The majority of customers I would have them all from when I started.”
The company offers reseeding, mowing, raking, baling, wrapping, bale stacking, silage (wagon), slurry spreading (dribble bar or tanker) and plant hire services.
In 2015, he branched into wagon silage and today claims to complete approximately 1,100-acres of silage annually.
“There were no wagons around; So it was a case of trying something different. There was a good take for it, and a lot of customers were happy.”
“Customers were happy with the chop length as they did not like the grass being chopped too much.”
“Baling is our most popular services. So, it varies what we do, but we could do anything from 10,000-12,000 bales a year.”
“My father was still baling when I started, so there were a few customers of his there. It built up fairly fast. We would get one or two new customers every year.”
His tractor fleet comprises a Deutz Fahr Agrotron 165 tractor, a Same Silver 130, a CLAAS AXION 800, a CLAAS ARION 650, and a CLAAS ARION 640.
Other items include a McHale Fusion two baler wrapper, Keltec 10 bale chaser, two CLAAS 8400 and 8300 silage wagons, KRONE wagon, and 3200 front and back CLAAS mowers.
Con also owns two 2700 CLAAS liner rakes, CROSS 2500-gallon slurry tanker, Abbey 2500-gallon tanker, 25T Hyundai track machine, AgQuip umbilical system, Hi-Spec dung spreader, Apkil disc harrow, and a JCB 435 loading shovel.
“We do a share of maintenance ourselves. McCarthy’s Garage does a lot of the servicing on our machinery as well. Whelehan Plant Sales oversees the track machine service.”
The Cork ag contractor outlined the challenges he faces in the field.
“Labour is getting way harder to get, and machinery and diesel prices are getting out of reach at this stage.”
“Machinery prices are nearly my biggest challenge. In the last five to ten years, a tractor has probably gone up €30,000 or €40,000.”
“Fuel at the moment is ridiculous; it is very hard to justify it.”
“Weather would also be a challenge for us as wet summers make life awful hard. You need dry weather for silage wagon, and it makes life easier. A wet year slows them down big time.”
He offered his advice for aspiring agricultural contractors.
“They will have to be well and ready for a lot of sleepless nights and try to keep the gear as fresh as possible.”
“They have to try to get started with good gear because if you have a lot of breakdowns, you will not last.”
“You will lose your customers very quick with breakdowns.”
“Starting now is hard, to be fair, but you just have to keep on top of maintenance. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.”
Con believes the key elements of running a successful business is “having a good word, doing the job as good as possible and being on time.”
Con plans to buy another McHale Fusion baler wrapper and continue to upgrade machinery.
“I would say my business will be much the same as it is in five years. But, I do not really plan on getting much bigger. I am happy enough where we are at.”
His one regret in building his business is that he did not branch into the silage wagons sooner.
“It is getting harder every year. It is hard to make money out of it [agricultural contracting] with the price of everything, including machinery and labour.”
“You should be doing contracting for the love of it and not for the money.”
“It is very hard to get good labour now; some do not want to do the hours anymore. Most of my part-time drivers are there since the business started.”
“The pit silage season is too short; it is only a couple of weeks of work in the year now.”
“There is a future in it, but it is hard to make money out of it. I would not like to be starting from scratch. It would be very hard with the price of things,” the Cork ag contractor concluded.
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