As part of this week’s Ag Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Andrew Harvey from Co Down. He discusses coming from a non-farming background, finding an opening for tedding grass, piping up to 6 million gallons of slurry, using modern technology, the challenges he faces and his plans.
Six years ago, Andrew Harvey, from Rathfriland, County Down, took the leap to set up his own agricultural contracting business off the back of a bank loan.
He established his company by purchasing a Ford 9700 tractor, a Bomford hedge-cutter, an NC 2,000-gallon slurry tanker and a LELY LOTUS tedder.
“I started the first year tedding 3,000-acres, and in the second year, I bought two tedders,” the Greenmount Agricultural College graduate told That’s Farming.
“There was an opening for tedding in my area with farmers realising the benefits of tedding grass to produce good quality silage.”
“I had a passion for farming and farm machinery from an early age. I was mesmerised by the volume of tractors and equipment agricultural contractor, John Dan O’Hare, had.”
“Not being from a farming background, I had no land or a farm. Therefore, agricultural contracting presented an opportunity to get into the industry.”
Down ag contractor
Harvey Agri employs one full-time worker and extra help at peak times serving Banbridge, Rathfriland, Newry and the surrounding areas.
The company offers services including tedding, raking, dump trailer hire, hedge-cutting, agitating, and slurry spreading (with a dribble bar and umbilical system).
“I built up my customer base through people I knew. Word of mouth and Facebook was also some help. We have over 50 customers.”
“Customer retention is important to me. You need to provide a quality service.”
“Initially, grass tedding was the biggest service, but interest in slurry spreading has also increased.”
“We are doing over 6,000-acres of grass tedding a year and piping 5-6 million gallons of slurry.”
After seeing an opening in his area, Andrew branched into umbilical slurry spreading 18 months ago.
“Nine times out of ten, when you spread slurry in February, ground is too wet and not suitable for tankers.”
“The piping system is a benefit at this time of year. It can spread a large volume of slurry with less of a carbon footprint.”
“It is certainly one of the busiest services we provide. We spread millions of gallons of slurry a year for various customers.”
“Modern technology with the use of flow meters and GPS guidance systems enables you to put exactly what the farmer wants onto their land and record it.”
“With the price of fertiliser rising, slurry is becoming an ever-increasing valuable resource for farmers.”
His current tractor fleet comprises a New Holland T7-200, a New Holland T7.185, a New Holland T6070 and a New Holland 8340.
“The tractors are serviced every 400 to 500 hours they do. Thankfully, the New Holland tractors have not given too much trouble throughout the years. We consider them good value for money.”
“We do most of the basic maintenance ourselves to keep costs down. The more complicated repair work goes to a good network of dealers and mechanics around us.”
Other items in his fleet include a SlurryKat umbilical system with a 9.0 m dribble bar, a Newrock 2500G slurry tanker with a 9.0m dribble bar, an NC nurse tanker, and a Newrock Slurry Pump.
He also has a Fendt Lotus 770 tedder, McHale 776 tedder, CLAAS liner 2900, McConnel PA55 hedge-cutter, KANE WBDT 15T half pipe dump trailer and an NC Link-a-Sweep.
Challenges agricultural contractors face
From Andrew’s point of view, the biggest challenges in agricultural contracting are weather, keeping machinery working, keeping on top of administration work and cash flow.
“If it is too wet, there is nothing to do. Then, if it is too dry, there is not enough grass to shake out. Weather conditions make it more difficult.”
“Slurry spreading dates also impact me as you are working day and night to try to get all tanks emptied.”
“Then, cash flow is a challenge. It is about trying to get money in on time and keep repayments, but it is never too bad.”
“You are always working hard. It is hard to make time to gather up a certain amount of money and at the same time, to have all the wheels turning.”
Andrew believes the key to success in agricultural contracting is working hard, providing a quality service, having good relationships with mechanics, dealers, customers, and suppliers, keeping your fleet serviced and making time for book-keeping.”
“If you do not keep upgrading machinery and pushing on, I think you get left behind.”
The increasing size of machinery and insufficient time available for jobs are two changes Andrew has identified in his six years as an agricultural contractor.
“Everyone wants everything done there and then. Nobody will wait anymore, and you are flat out working all the time.”
“If somebody rings you today, they want you tomorrow. They do not want you in three weeks.”
“Since I have started, I have noticed machinery is getting bigger since I started. You need bigger, better, and faster machines to get the work done on time.”
“My first tedder cost €8,500, and a new tedder today is about €11,500. Machinery prices are going up monthly.”
Andrew’s advice for new entrant agricultural contractors is: “they should work hard, provide a good service, back yourself and do not be scared to spend a bit of money”.
“My main piece of advice would be when you are buying the first machine to buy the right machine first,” the Down ag contractor said.
“Study what you are going to do and research the machine that is going to do the best job. Sometimes the cheaper option is not always the best.”
“Sometimes with a machine that is €1,000 dearer, it is nearly better to spend that extra few pounds, and it will work out better in the longer term.”
Andrew hopes to invest in a new umbilical slurry spreading system, a second-hand New Holland tractor and expand his workforce.
“I was lucky to get where I am today from when I started my business.”
Over the next decade, he plans to grow his business to a bigger scale, invest in a set of mowers, and branch into pit silage.
“I would like to keep pushing on, and hopefully, agricultural contracting will keep progressing the way it is going.”
“As long as the weather stays on our side and farmers keep producing food, there will be a need for agricultural contractors to provide a service. The modern farmer has no time to do everything.”
“With the cost of specialised machinery, it would not make economic sense for a farmer to purchase a machine that they may only use occasionally.”
“Agricultural contractors definitely have a role in the producing food, assisting farmers in producing quality cattle feed to take some of the burden from them in providing a slurry spreading service.”
“The new rules from April 2022 regarding red and white diesel are also going to prove challenging for both farmers and contractors.”
“I am not sure what way agricultural contracting is going to go. Contracting is certainly going to put more pressure on the farming sector,” the Down ag contractor concluded.
To share your story like this Down ag contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]
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