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HomeEditor's Picks‘I do not depend on farming; agricultural contracting is my only income’
Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
Journalism intern.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

‘I do not depend on farming; agricultural contracting is my only income’

As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segmentThat’s Farming, profiles David Hill Plant and Agri. He discusses financing his business, rising fuel and fertiliser prices, the uptake in LESS technology, and his plans.

David Hill (26) formed his agricultural business three years ago with one digger and has doubled this to three excavators.

The Leap, County Cork native, began his contracting business offering a general plant hire service, including site clearances, land reclamation, and ground drainage.

He purchased his first digger, a Fiat Kobelco E215 20T WTF, through a €20,000 car loan and from €5,000 savings.

Other machinery he used in establishing his business included an NC low loader and his uncle’s Massey Ferguson 6480 tractor.

He secured another €15,000 through sales from selling cars, and he borrowed the remainder of cash required.

David worked with local agricultural contractors before going out in his own right, and completed a six-month stint four years ago in New Zealand working with Finch Contracting.

“I did not think things would go as well for me as they did. I never planned to be out on my own; it just happened,” David Hill, a Clonakilty Agricultural College graduate told That’s Farming.

“I was always mad for machinery since the day I could walk. We do not have a farm, but I grew up on my grandparent’s farm with my uncle.”

Humble beginnings 

David operates a calf-to-beef system on his 60-acre farm, slaughtering 30 Hereford and Friesians.

“I bought a digger to complete my own work at home. I then got a job off a neighbour, and that is how it started.”

“My first year was busy until winter came in, and I had no work in October.”

“I drove a machine on a wind farm until March when I started getting calls about work. Also, I was doing the odd Saturday job with the digger.”

“It was not that I did not have enough customers built up. It was that I did not have work to do during the first winter.”

“I have not stopped working since last spring. I thought last winter it would be quiet again, and that I would end up driving for another person, but I had three diggers going last year.”

David Hill Plant and Agri offers services such as digging, dump trailer work, low loader hire, slurry spreading and mini digger hire.

David Hill Plant and Agri

David Hill Plant and Agri serve a 25-mile radius of Leap, employing three part-time workers and one full-time operator.

The business offers services such as digging, dump trailer work, low loader hire, slurry spreading, rock breaking, mini digger hire, mowing, and drawing silage.

David carries out site and farm work from December to January. He begins slurry spreading in February, followed by rock breaking, then focus on general work, completing all services during the winter.

“I did not think I would get the volume of work I got this year. It was slow enough to build up the customer base at the start, but when you are doing good quality work, the customers come without asking.”

“I never asked anyone yet for a day’s works; it is all about making a name for yourself. I try to do good work, get in and out, and do the job right.”

“I try to mind all my customers. Also, for every customer I have, I do not say a bad word about any of them. They have all been good to me. I treat them like they treat me.”

“I am concentrating on digging. Slurry spreading is just a side service to keep the tractor busy. I do a nice share of dump trailer work too.”

“90% of my customers would be get trailing shoe slurry, and 10% would be splash plate. Everyone wants the trailing shoe.”

“The way things are going, slurry will all be put out by a trailing shoe or splash plate in the next year or two. You will have no other choice only to spread it that way.”

David Hill Plant and Agri offers services such as digging, dump trailer work, low loader hire, slurry spreading and mini digger hire.

Farm machinery

His current tractor fleet comprises a Massey Ferguson 7718, a Massey Ferguson 6490, and his uncle’s Massey Ferguson 6480.

“I service the tractors myself, and a local mechanic, the main Massey Ferguson dealer, completes the main work.”

“The Massey Ferguson 6495 tractor has 14,000 hours and had under 10,000 hours two years ago.”

“I have had no problems with it; I did the breaks and keep it serviced. Also, I only bought the Massey Ferguson 7718 tractor last month.”

Other items include an ABBEY 2000R slurry tanker, an ABBEY trailing shoe, a Kverneland trailed mower, two 18T Dooley dump trailers, and a Broughan tri-axle low loader.

He also has a Rammer E68 rock breaker, an MSB 600 rock breaker, a 2005 Fiat Kobelco E215 WTF 20T digger, a 2015 DX225LC-3 excavator, and an 08 Hitachi -1 Zaxis 200 digger.

David Hill Plant and Agri offers services such as digging, dump trailer work, low loader hire, slurry spreading and mini digger hire.

Challenges

David believes the key elements in running a successful agricultural business are “having a good word, doing what the farmer wants, being open to being as helpful as you can, advising them, and working with clients”.

He shared some of the difficulties he faces in the agricultural contracting field.

“I would be afraid about how a job would turn out. The day you go and think you know it all is the day something will go wrong. You always want to do the job as good as you can.”

“Diesel prices and paying loans are the biggest challenges at the moment. Paying loans is the main barrier I worry about, and that work will not run out.”

“Next year, with the way fertiliser prices are, farmers are not going to do as much work; maybe I am wrong.”

“I cannot see farmers getting in contractors with diggers spending up to €4,000 reclaiming land with fertiliser prices over €1,000/T.”

“We got a lot of our slurry out during the summer, but I was busy the last few days before the slurry spreading ban.”

“I think next year, farmers will utilise slurry a lot more with the fertiliser prices, and it will be more valuable to them.”

David Hill Plant and Agri offers services such as digging, dump trailer work, low loader hire, slurry spreading and mini digger hire.

Plans

David plans to branch into baling and raking, invest in an additional digger, maintain his business size, and welcome new customers.

“I hope to be still doing what I am doing in five years and take every day as it comes.”

“Furthermore, I am not going to jump too big into the whole thing. I am going to stay steady, pay off machinery and see what happens.”

When asked about the future of agricultural contracting in Ireland, he said:

“Drivers are going to become a big problem. They are not there, and younger people do not want to do the work.”

“For example, you see in New Zealand the number of people that go there from England and Ireland. I am not sure if that is going to happen here where people come from overseas.”

“I see in another four to five years; it will be very hard to get anyone to work. I think we have to work with it. You can only do as much as you can do.”

“Agricultural contracting is a viable business. Being paid on time is the biggest key, but you can certainly live off it.”

“I do not depend on farming for an income; agricultural contracting is my only income. Whatever happens on the farming side happens,” the agricultural contractor concluded.

To share your story like David Hill Plant and Agri, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – catherina@thatsfarming.com

See more agricultural contracting profiles

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