As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Mike Supple Agri and Plant Hire, Cork. He discusses finding an opening in the market for baling, making 20,000 bales and labour shortages.
From Skull, Cork, Mike Supple established his agricultural contracting business over ten years ago with a Credit Union loan.
He began his venture by purchasing a 2000 New Holland 8670 tractor, a McHale Fusion 1 baler, and a Taarup 4028 mower.
The Teagasc Skibbereen Green Certificate college graduate told That’s Farming:
“I saw an opening for baling. More and more farmers were going away from the pit silage, and I said I would have a go at baling and see what would happen.”
“Tractors and machinery have always fascinated me. So, when I left school, I worked with a local agricultural contractor for two years, and I went out on my own right then.”
Cork agricultural contractor
Mike Supple Agri and Plant Hire employ one full-time staff member, a part-time worker during peak times, serving a 20-mile-radius of Skull, Cork.
The company offer a range of agricultural services.
These include mowing, tedding, raking, baling, ploughing, disc/power harrowing, seeding, lime spreading, dung spreading, slurry spreading (with tankers and umbilical system), mulching, dump trailer hire, and plant hire.
“Everything was slow at the beginning, but word of mouth is a great way of getting known.”
“We offer a complete agricultural service; baling is our main service. The plastic on bales with our McHale Fusion 3 Plus baler is a big thing. Many farmers like that option.”
“The first year, I made between 6,500 to 7,000 silage bales. It has grown from that figure, and there are always one or two more customers coming every year.”
“We are averaging between 19,000-20,000 silage bales every year now.”
“Silage baling is fine, but it has a short enough window, so we had to adapt to reseeding and slurry services to fill the blanks.”
“We finished slurry spreading two weeks ago and are on the digger work since. Anything we will do from now will be repairs and servicing for the upcoming year.”
Mike’s fleet of tractors includes a Case Puma 165, two New Holland TM140s, a New Holland TM155, and a New Holland TSA115.
His silage equipment includes two McHale Fusion 3 plus balers, Kverneland 4332 mower, a PÖTTINGER rake, Malone tedder, and a Keltic 10 bale pack.
Mike’s tillage equipment include a Kverneland four-furrow plough, a KUHN power harrow, a Mandam disc harrow, and a Bredal lime spreader.
Other items include a SLURRYKAT umbilical system (1,600-metres of piping) with a 9.0m dribble bar, a Conor 2,250-gallon slurry tanker (with trailing shoe), a CROSS agitator, Perfect flail mulcher, HYUNDAI 40 digger, Broughan 16T dump trailer, and a Broughan tri-axle low loader.
“We complete all maintenance that we can ourselves, and Gavin McCarthy Tractor Sales, Skull, is good for backup service. We buy a good few machines from him.”
“A local mechanic, John Streetman, completes any maintenance to our balers for us.”
In 2009, the business began offering slurry spreading services.
“Slurry spreading did not pick up until 2015, so we were only doing a small amount until we got a trailing shoe.”
“Many customers saw the benefit of a trailing shoe from a grass point of view.”
“The GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme) where farmers had to put out slurry as low emission slurry got that service up and running for us.”
In January 2020, the business invested in an umbilical system due to poor conditions. This move is proving well for the company.
“It is a bit slow to get going and for people to get used to, but anyone we have completed it for are happy.”
“The nearest umbilical system is 35-40 miles away, and we would have picked up a few new customers through that service.”
Slurry spreading dates
He shared his view on the slurry spreading window.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine draft nitrates plan, farmers must have all slurry applied by September 30th, 2022 in zones A, B and C and September, 15th for 2023 and the following years.
“Slurry spreading dates going back is absolute lunacy in my opinion, and calendar farming does not work.”
“For example, at the start of this year, there was a good spell of weather, and once the window opened, it was wet and rained for a couple of weeks.”
“It did not impact us much for this year because we have an umbilical system, and we were able to travel away. However, it is going to be a bigger problem going forward for the farmer with slurry storage.”
“There are too many rules and regulations to overcome with everything, and it is bound to get harder.”
The Cork native outlined the challenges he faces in agricultural contracting.
“You are considering a minimum of an extra €20,000 on tractors, and everything is gone mad.”
“Balers have gone up €20,000 from last year alone, and inflation of things is crazy.”
“Getting help in the form of tractor drivers is going to be harder and harder to get. Help is going to be a big challenge going forward.”
“I am lucky the two employees with me the last 4-5 years, are good workers. They know the run of everything in the business.”
He believes the key elements to succeed in the field are doing “a good job” and, in return, “you will always be asked back”.
Mike stated he is at a place where he is happy with the firm’s progress, customer base/service range and he hopes to continue upgrading and maintaining machinery.
“We would like to try to do it as best we can. If one gets too big, they cannot offer the quality of the service. They will not be able to do things as good as they could.”
“Customer retention is important to me. We cannot stay going without them; they are the important piece of the jigsaw puzzle.”
“You go in somewhere to offer a service, and if you do a good enough job, you will be asked back to complete the rest of the job. So, I try to offer the best service and do the best job I can.
He shared his view on the future of agricultural contracting.
“The work will still have to be done anyway. Challenges with diesel prices are difficult to look at sometimes. However, as long as there are farmers and cows, there is always going to be work.”
“With all these restrictions and regulations imposed on farmers, it is going to be testing on family farms to try to stay going,” the Cor agricultural contractor concluded.
To share your story like Mike Supple, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – firstname.lastname@example.org
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