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Westmeath man leaves the army to pursue ag contracting business

As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segmentThat’s Farming, profiles David Corrigan Agri Services. David discusses juggling a state-body profession with contracting, making a move full-time, and mowing, raking, tedding, 1,000-plus acres of grass annually.

David Corrigan from Killucan, County Westmeath, recently retired from the army, following a 21-year stint, to pursue his agricultural contracting business.

In 2016, David began establishing his company, David Corrigan Agri Services.

“I built up the business over a number of years as I was nearing the end of my career in the military,” David Corrigan told That’s Farming.

“During the first couple of years, I found it tough work as I was trying to keep two jobs going.”

“I feel fortunate that I can now concentrate all my time on contracting. It is a little more family-friendly.”

“From a young age, I wanted to be a contractor and always enjoyed machinery. I had a good customer base which meant I could leave the military and go full-time contracting.”

David Corrigan Agri Services

David Corrigan Agri Services serves the greater Midlands area of Westmeath, Meath, Laois, Offaly, and occasionally Dublin and Louth.

Its services include full reseeding, stitching/over sowing, mowing, tedding, raking, bale haulage, dump trailer hire, and slurry spreading (with dribble bar).

“When I first started the business, I was providing a tedding and raking service. So, I would say 200-acres would be all I was doing in my first few years.”

“Now, between mowing, tedding, and raking, I could be doing 1,000-acres plus a year. I reseed approximately 250 to 300-acres a year.”

“But, I would not be classed as an all-rounder. I provide mowing, tedding, and raking for farmers.”

“Them, as required, I can help out local contractors when they need an extra rake or mower.”

“There are some farmers who I reseed for; I would be lucky enough to do the mowing and raking for them also.”

“Some customers for whom I mow and rake their paddocks, sometimes also give me their first and second-cut silage, which is a great help.”

David Corrigan Agri Services, farming news, Longford, agricultural contracting,

LESS

Last spring, David purchased a Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) dribble bar.

“Sometimes you have to see an opportunity coming, and the last thing you need is to get left behind.”

“I purchased the dribble bar last year believing regulations were going to get stricter in the future, which they have.”

“I was better off having the dribble bar on the tanker ready to go rather than trying to get it after work came in.”

According to David, 2020 saw most of his slurry work with the splash plate or Moscha, where 90% of his customers have chosen dribble bar so far, this year.

“Farmers are maybe beginning to change more to the LESS system. It could be a case; they are utilising their slurry more with constant increases in the cost of fertiliser.”

Tractors and farm machinery 

David began the business using a Massey Ferguson 398 tractor before purchasing a Landini 5H-115 in 2017.

“When bigger and heavier work started to come my way, such as slurry and reseeding, I traded that tractor in and bought a Landini 6C-140 in March 2019.”

“I carry out the day-to-day maintenance of the implement, machinery. Also, I have a local mechanic that does the main servicing and electrical work on the tractor.”

“I am very rigorous. I prefer to get a small service on the tractor every 300 to 350-hours, such as an oil change or so forth and get the tractor checked over while it is there.”

“In my mind, machinery makes you the money, so you have to look after it.”

Other items include a 10ft Malone Procut 3000 MP mower, a Kverneland 8575 tedder, a KRONE Swadro TC 760 plus rake, a 24ft GSF bale trailer, and a 14T Tuffmac dump trailer.

He also owns a Belvac 2500-gallon slurry tanker with a SLURRYQUIP 7.5m dribble bar, a Tolmet disc harrow, a 10ft AMAZONE power harrow with a Güttler air seeder, a Güttler Green master 5-in-1-system, and a front-mounted Palatine PP-rip.

“I upgrade machines as required, but I try to get a bit of value out of them first. So, I try to upgrade or refurbish one machine a year whenever I can.”

David Corrigan Agri Services, farming news, Longford, agricultural contracting,

Start small

David, who established the business using his own funds, believes the most important factor in a start-up business is “start small”.

“Sometimes people can actually start off contracting too fast or go big too quickly and get too much finance at the start.”

“They will actually find their ham-stringing themselves and putting themselves under far too much financial pressure.”

“I was very fortunate when I started; l had a full-time job at the time.”

“So, I had the opportunity then to start slow because I still had a wage coming in. You sometimes have to take a bit of a risk in this business.”

“However, if you see an opportunity presenting itself, sometimes the risk can be worth it, such as an opportunity to expand into a niche market, for example.”

David Corrigan Agri Services, farming news, Longford, agricultural contracting,

Changes

David has noticed an increase in machinery size and capacity over the last five years /his five-year period in business.

David has noticed an increase in machinery size and capacity over the last five years.

“Now, for example, slurry tankers have to be bigger to get through work, and tractors have to be bigger to pull such machinery.”

“Years ago, a 2000-gallon tanker was a big tanker. Nowadays, contractors are running 3,500-gallon or 4,000-gallon tankers.”

“A 10ft trailed mower was the main mower in fleets years ago, where now a set of triple mowers is nearly the run-of-the-mill.”

David Corrigan Agri Services, farming news, Longford, agricultural contracting,

Challenges

David’s biggest challenges as an agricultural contractor include a shorter working window for silage and increased fuel, machinery, and repair costs.

“I know from talking to other agricultural contractors they are going to run machinery longer.”

“Where people would normally run a machine for two or three years and then religiously trade it, they are now running it possibly for four to five years.”

“Or they are running a tractor for an extra number of hours just to get more value out of them.”

“If machinery costs keep rising, they are going to be a crippling factor. It is getting very hard to renew machinery.”

Key elements

David believes the key elements to a successful business are “mutual respect with the customer, a good word, timekeeping, and knowing your cash flow, bills, income, and outgoings.”

“Honestly, if I cannot get to somebody, I will tell them. If you tell someone you are not going to be there tonight, but you will be there in the morning, most people are quite happy with that once they know.”

“If you tell a person, you are coming this week with no intention of coming, it leaves a bad working relationship.”

Future

Looking ahead, David pointed out he may upgrade his tractor should the correct deal arise.

He expressed that it would not be “financially viable” for him to hire any workers but can secure labour if needed.

“I am very cautious while taking on extra work as I do not want it to interfere with the needs of my current customers. I want to continue to provide a good service to them.”

“There is a danger if you do take on lots of extra work that your service starts to suffer. That is the last thing I want to happen.”

“One of two things is going to happen in the agricultural contracting industry, in my opinion.”

“Either you will get a lot of smaller contractors who will specialise in slurry, reseeding, baling, pit silage, or you are going to have a few very large contractors that will do everything.”

“I would say myself with the rising cost of machinery; smaller, more specialised contractors might be more likely to happen.”

“Having a lot of machinery in the yard is a serious financial burden to be carrying,” the agricultural contractor concluded.

To share your story, like David Corrigan, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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