As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Cullen Farming Contractors Limited. Brian Cullen discusses maintaining his fleet, completing 2,000-acres of pit silage, spreading 12T of lime and the impact of rising machinery and fuel costs.
In 1979, Eamon Cullen established his agricultural contracting business, Eamon Cullen Agri Contractor, in Rathdrum, Wicklow, from funds he saved working for a local tillage farmer and extracting timber.
Eamon put a deposit down on a Ford 5000 tractor and made himself available to farmers in the area to complete different jobs.
“My father hired a Howard dung spreader for spreading from a farmer and another tractor with a loader from a different farmer to complete the loading,” Brian Cullen explained to That’s Farming.
“He managed to buy a muck spreader and different equipment as he slowly built up the business along the way. In 1981, he bought a small square baler and kept it going.”
“Then, in 1982, he bought a double-chop silage harvester as it started to become popular. After that, in 1986, he purchased a trailed-precision chop harvester. In 1995, he bought his first New Holland self-propelled harvester.”
“A big help to him was his uncle, Hughie, who was from a small farm. He had Fordson Major tractors over the years. He also got great support from his parents, Dinny and Lila Cullen.”
“I took over the business in the last four years. My father still helps us out a good bit, but I am running my own agricultural contracting business now.”
Cullen Farming Contractors Limited
Brian employs his father, his wife Jennifer, as a full-time office worker, up to three full-time operators and up to seven people at peak times, serving Arklow, Bray, north Wexford, east Wicklow and occasionally west Wicklow.
The business offers big square baling, round baling, wrapping and stacking, bale haulage, pit silage, maize sowing under polyethene, maize harvesting, and dung and slurry spreading services.
Its tillage services include ploughing, disc ploughing, harrowing, direct reseeding, sowing, combining, spraying, and fertiliser spreading.
Other services include land levelling, Christmas tree harvesting (netting and palleting), hedge-cutting, mulching, and loading shovel hire (with operators).
Agricultural contracting services
Cullen Farming Contractors Limited produces 8,000 round bales of hay, silage and straw and 4,000 square straw and hay bales and covers 2,000-acres of pit silage annually.
They combine 450-acres of barley, wheat, oats, beans and oilseed rape and spread 4.5 – 5 million gallons of slurry- depending on the year.
“Also, we spread a lot of lime for Roadstone. We began spreading for them about 35 years ago. Moreover, we spread an average of 12,000T of calcium and magnesium lime per year.”
“We offer a professional service. Therefore, the need for a good agricultural contractor provider to the farming community is essential.”
“Having a very good contractor on your doorstep that will provide you a good service that you know will be there is a valuable asset to rural Ireland.”
“We are lucky enough to have built up a good, strong, loyal customer base from people we value 100%. Their loyalty and patience, during some of the difficult years that come around from time to time, that does not go unnoticed.”
“My father started the business and grew the customer base slowly. There was no job too big or too small. If a customer wants anything done, we try to do it. So, customer satisfaction would be of the utmost importance. We have a lot of repeat customers.”
His tractor fleet includes a 2012 John Deere 6190R, a 2008 John Deere 7530 premium, a 2009 John Deere 6830 and a 141 John Deere 6150R.
Other machinery includes two CLAAS Jaguar 890 self-propelled harvesters, a JCB 416S and 434s wheel loaders, a Deutz-Fahr 5690-HTS combine harvester with a 22ft head and 5 silage/grain trailers.
His tillage equipment includes two Kvemeland five-furrow reversible ploughs, an Amazone 6m power harrow, a 3m KUHN power harrow and two Bredal K85 spreaders.
He also possesses a SAMCO four-row and six-row plastic maize sowing drills, an Accord Kvemeland six-row standard maize sower (non-plastic), Vaderstad rapid seed drill, and a 3m one-pass grain/grass sower.
The baling equipment includes a McHale F5500 – 15 Knife Chopper Baler, a CLAAS Rollant 255 RC round baler, two Kvemeland 5090 MT BX mowers, a Kuhn GF 17002 tedder, a CLAAS LINER 2900 rake and a Massey Ferguson 187 large square baler.
Dung and slurry spreading machinery include a Lowlander Mk4 – 150 HBD – GT Bunning15T, a Wexoman agitator, an ABBEY slurry agitator, a Rossmore agitator, a Ruscon 3,000-gallon slurry tanker, a 2,250-gallon Abbey tanker, and a 3,300-gallon Terra Gator self-propelled liquid manure spreader with an 8.5m disc injector.
“We complete all maintenance ourselves. We have a workshop, and we do everything. For example, we strip gearboxes and engines and all that type of work.”
Brian finds rising fertiliser, machinery, fuel and part prices as his main challenges in the sector.
“Agricultural diesel has effectively doubled in price. This is going to put real pressure on formulating a fair charge for the work involved to our customers this year.”
“However, we understand that they too are finding it challenging with rising fertiliser prices.”
“The increasing use of computerised technology on tractors and equipment, whilst streamlining the accuracy of farming operations, comes at an ever-increasing cost to agricultural contractors.”
“We are not entitled to any financial assistance as full-time contractors, be it government or EU assistance in the form of grants to avail of this technology and the following upgrades on this technology.”
“It is changing all the time. Not alone are tractors becoming more technical, but the equipment fitted to tractors is more technical.”
“We have noticed tractor fuel costs are running currently €11/hr extra over what they cost per hour to run last year. This is without quantifying filter costs and services that will have to be done on tractors monthly.
“Therefore, it is costing us €45/hour extra to operate tractors this year. That is a serious cost extra for one aspect of the business. There is no indication of a price drop; our bill could go higher. So, we are looking at staggering bills for fuel only.”
Future of Irish agricultural contracting
Brian believes that running a successful business revolves around knowing what the customer wants and being very attentive to your clients”.
“We drive tractors and operate the equipment. However, knowing your costs to a fine detail and managing the paperwork end of your business is just as essential as driving them.”
Brian intends to keep his business at a steady level, maintain his machinery, and welcome his children Aidan (12), Kevin (9), and Ellie (2) into the company.
“I know beef and lamb prices are not too bad now, but the fertiliser price jump is impacting farmers. Somebody needs to look at this from a government point of view and see how it is going to work.”
“The challenges are there for everyone. For example, even for a person with a regular job, is paying €50-€80 more for fuel to get to work.”
“I can see a tightness happening in this country. People will need more leniency and support working with banks.”
“Will the government promote that, or will they let small businesses suffer? That is a serious question we have to ask,” he concluded.
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