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Conor Halpin
Conor Halpin
Journalism intern.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Ag contractor making 4,000 silage bales in Donegal

As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segmentThat’s Farming, profiles Darren Gildea of Gildea Agri Contracting and Plant Hire, Donegal. He discusses taking out a bank loan to pay for machinery, making 4,000 silage bales, emptying just shy of 20 slurry tanks and rising input costs.

Darren Gildea (27) established his agricultural contracting business, Gildea Agri Contracting and Plant Hire, six years ago when he saw an opening in his area for baling.

The business opportunity came available to the Ardara, County Donegal, native when a neighbouring agricultural contractor took a step back from his work.

Darren began his business by taking out a bank loan and acquiring a Ford 7740 tractor, a McHale F550 round baler, a McHale 991B wrapper, and a Tarrup 337 mower.

“In 2014, I bought a Ford 7740 tractor and then in 2016, I decided to buy a McHale F550 round baler and McHale 991B wrapper,” the Greenmount Agricultural College, graduate told That’s Farming.

“I always had a passion for agricultural contracting and working with machinery, tractors, and farming.”

“My early farming memories are working with sheep and cows. Hay time was another farming memory; being in the hayfield during that season.”

“I grew up on a beef and sheep farm, but it consists of only sheep now. We have 120 ewes.”

“I have as much interest in the machinery as the livestock. My father, Patsy, was not involved in agricultural contracting; he was always just, farming.”

 Gildea Agri Contractor and Plant Hire, Donegal, offers round bale silage, slurry spreading digger work and bale haulage services.

Gildea Agri Contracting and Plant Hire

Gildea Agri Contracting and Plant Hire employs workers during the summer months and serves a 10-mile radius of Ardara including Glenties, Killee, and Rosbeg.

“I advertised my business the first year, and customers came through word of mouth after that. Once I got the business going, people got to know about me.”

“Customer retention is very important to me. A lot of my customers would be repeat clients. I go back to do work for them year-after-year.”

“Furthermore, I like to do a tidy job and have work done to the customers satisfaction. I do not like going into a customer’s field and leaving a mess behind me.”

Darren continues to market his company through social media pages, e.g,  Facebook he set up originally, which keeps his customers and potential clients updated.

Company services

The business offers round bale silage, slurry spreading (with tanker and umbilical slurry system), digger work, power harrowing, dung spreading, bale haulage, and dump trailer services.

According to Darren, baling silage, spreading slurry and digger work are among the most popular services that clients wish to avail of.

He completes up to 4,000 silage bales and empties nearly 20 slurry tanks annually.

“It took me two or three years to get going at the baling right. There would not be a lot of hill ground suitable for silage where we are.”

“I see a lot of farmers looking to dry their silage more, to leave a bit more of a wilt in the silage.”

“I branched into umbilical system slurry spreading three years ago. There was an opening in my area.”

“I saw ourselves putting out slurry on the same dry field every year, and you could not access other fields.”

“There was a lot of sticky ground in our area, and it was hard to work slurry tankers on.”

“However, by using this system, you pump it out in more places, and a lot of people are interested in that method.”

 Gildea Agri Contractor and Plant Hire, Donegal, offers round bale silage, slurry spreading digger work and bale haulage services.

Tractors and farm machinery

His tractor fleet comprises a New Holland TM130, a New Holland TS115A, a New Holland 7840, a Ford 4000, and a Massey Ferguson 35.

“I do most of the tractor and machinery maintenance myself. I get a neighbouring mechanic, Cunningham Agri, for work I cannot do.”

Other machinery items include his original McHale F550 Round Baler, his initial McHale, 991B wrapper, a Kverneland Taarup 4028 9ft mower conditioner, and a Maschio power harrow.

His slurry and dung equipment include an NC Super 3000 slurry mixer, an NC 1,300-gallon vacuum slurry tanker, Umbilical Slurry Spreading Systems  SlurryKat (with 800m piping, front and back reeler and a DODA pump), and a Belmac dung spreader.

The company also owns a Herbst 19T GROSS low loader, a Herbst 14T dump trailer, a CLAAS-liner 780 rake, a Ritchie grassland aerator, and a Hitachi EX100-3 Hydraulic Excavator.

 Gildea Agri Contractor and Plant Hire, Donegal, offers round bale silage, slurry spreading digger work and bale haulage services.

Challenges in agricultural contracting

The challenges Darren faces in the line of work include weather forecasts, machinery breakdowns, rising machinery prices, and calendar farming.

Machinery has become very expensive in the last couple of years. It is hard to balance it all out, to invest in machinery and to try to keep a fair contracting rate for the farmer.”

“Not many farmers around here spread slurry early or else tanks are full. Most years, weather does not suit.”

“However, moving the back-end of the year slurry spreading window will impact us a good bit.”

“A person I worked for did not cut silage until September 27th. If the government is on about moving slurry dates to September 15th, there is nowhere to put out slurry.

“As it stands, the current slurry spreading dates are tight.”

 Gildea Agri Contractor and Plant Hire, Donegal, offers round bale silage, slurry spreading digger work and bale haulage services.

Key to agricultural contracting success and business plans

Darren believes that to be successful in agricultural contracting, it is important that you, “do the work the customer wants, have timekeeping skills and keep machinery maintained to minimise as many breakdowns as possible”.

The Donegal agricultural contractor plans to continue upgrading machinery such as his balers, mowers, slurry equipment, diggers, and invest in a New Holland tractor.

“I plan to do a bit more ploughing and land reclamation. However, aside from that, I would not be expanding my business much more.”

“I hope to work in a bigger area and hire someone full-time to help me out. I will have enough work to keep them on all-year-round and keep building more customers in five to ten years.”

According to Darren, he is seeking an employee, who is a “good worker”.

“I need someone who knows machinery and knows how to handle machinery.”

“The hardest thing to find is someone who can read the ground around you and know how to approach something without making a mess of the field.”

 Gildea Agri Contractor and Plant Hire, Donegal, offers round bale silage, slurry spreading digger work and bale haulage services.

The future of Irish agricultural contracting

Darren believes the “next couple of years will be interesting” with rising fuel and machinery costs.

“This year, livestock prices are quite good. However, if cattle prices are not good, this will have a big impact on agricultural contracting.”

“I feel there is a viable position for the agricultural contractor to survive at the minute.”

“However, going forward, with prices increasing, if things get too dear, you can see a lot of people leaving the field.”

“There are not many young people coming into agricultural contracting in my area. Furthermore, there are not many people going into farming either,” the Donegal agricultural contractor concluded.

To share your story like this Donegal ag contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]

See more agricultural contracting profiles

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