As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Feerey Agri. He discusses taking over the business following his father’s passing, increasing machinery prices and driver shortages.
Feerey Agri, located in County Westmeath, has been in business for over 20 years and serves a 20-mile radius of Tyrellspass.
The owner of Feerey Agri, John Feerey, passed away last Christmas, and his son, William, now runs the business.
“The first thing I did when I came home from school was head out and see what was going on. I was always stuck in under a tractor or with cows,” William Feerey told That’s Farming.
“My father’s first tractor was an Ursus 921R 4wd. After that, he had a Zetor Crystal 8011 and bought a Dox Deutz Fahr in the early 2000s.”
“In 2003, he bought his first new tractor, a Massey Ferguson 6270 and Valmet 8050 in 2004. We still have them tractors today. The Valmet 8050 is one of the fleet’s main workhorses.”
William and his late father, John, continued building their fleet of tractors.
In 2006, they purchased a Deutz Agrotron 150 and in 2012, a second-hand Deutz Fahr Agrotron 150.
“We bought a new Deutz Fahr 6160 2016 and a new Deutz Fahr 6185 two years ago. In 2017, we also bought a Massey Ferguson 6465 tractor.”
“We try to do as much maintenance ourselves on tractors as we can. So, for example, the Deutz Fahr tractors go to Tom Shaw Farm Machinery Limited.”
“Then, our local mechanic looks after the Massey Ferguson tractors, and Lyons and Burton Limited look after the balers and equipment.”
William made his mark on the business this year by purchasing some new equipment.
These include a McHale Fusion 3 plus baler, a McHale ORBITAL wrapper, and an ABBEY 2750-gallon slurry tanker with a 7.5m dribble bar.
“Everything else would have been bought through my father.”
Feerey Agri also owns a Major 2600-gallon slurry tanker (with trailing shoe), Major 2650-gallon slurry tanker, a Belmac 2350-gallon slurry tanker, NC dung spreader and an NC 3800 agitator.
Other items include a McHale F5500 baler, McHale F550 baler, McHale HS2000 wrapper, a Bomford hedge-cutter, McHale Pro Glide F3100 front/back mowers, Kverneland trailed mower, and two CLAAS Liner 2600 rakes.
Agricultural contracting services
William employs two full-time employees and up to ten part-time workers at peak times.
Feerey Agri offers services including mowing, raking, baling, drawing bales, stacking, slurry spreading, dung spreading, and hedge-cutting.
“We could deal with up to 60-70 farmers. When you do a job up the road, and your neighbour sees you doing a good job, they will ask you to come in and do their work.”
“If you do a good job, you will always be back. You will always gain a customer one year and lose one the next year, but you will always gain it back afterwards.”
“I am very lucky in that way; all our customers are great clients.”
“We could be doing 30,000 bales annually in the last ten years, but it is like everything, things move on and get bigger and better.”
“There is another big push with our slurry spreading and dung spreading services. We could empty 80-90 tanks a year from big ones to small ones, so a couple of thousand acres could be covered.”
In William’s view, the biggest challenge his business faces is the “shortage of drivers.”
“The price of machinery is awful. I do not know how you could justify the price at all. But, if you do not stick with the times, you get left behind and will have nothing then.”
“If you try to buy a tractor, now, you would need to take out a mortgage.”
“If you are considering buying a 108HP tractor, you could be talking €135,000-€140,000 or more. The price of diesel is going up and down too.”
He outlined some changes in the agricultural contracting industry he has noticed throughout the years.
“Machines have got bigger as time has moved on. Everything is bigger in size than what it was 15 years ago.”
“People are trying to get things done more efficiently, and everything is time. So, you do not have very little time for breakdowns.”
“Everyone wants the low emission slurry spreading option (LESS) with a trailing shoe or dribble bar.”
“This is why I had to go with the new slurry tanker with the dribble bar. Nearly every second person wants a dribble bar or trailing shoe.”
“Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) is a big challenge, and the government are pushing for that big time. We have to wait and see what takes place over the coming years.”
Running a successful ag contracting business
Willian believes the key elements of running a successful agricultural contracting business are “keeping costs to a minimum, employing good drivers, doing as much yourself, and doing “a good job”.
“If you are not able to do much maintenance yourself, you may forget about it [agricultural contracting]. Any mechanic is €56-€57/hr.”
“If you have a person in for a couple of hours when you could do a job yourself, keep the costs down, at least, you do not have to be giving a mechanic a big bill.”
Plans and challenges
William intends to continue employing his “great group of employees” and welcome his younger brother after he completes his studies.
“I hope to continue slurry spreading, baling, keep machinery fresh and do a good job; that is all you can do.”
“There is no point getting into pit silage as there are enough agricultural contractors doing pit silage around me. Unless one of them decides to give it up, however, sourcing drivers are the big problem.”
“I might expand into tillage in the coming years, but I do not know. I will have to play it by ear and see what happens.”
“Slurry spreading dates will impact me and everyone. However, we will just have to try to deal with it; you can only do so much,” the agricultural contractor concluded.
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