Agricultural Contractor of the Week: Hughes Agri
As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Hughes Agri. Phillip Hughes discusses taking over the family business, selling feed, producing 5,000 silage bales, and 8,000 straw bales, the sector’s difficulties and the firm’s expansion plans.
“The harvester holds 1,100 litres. So, you would burn 600 or 700 litres per day. The average tractor is holding between 250 and 330 litres a day.”
“Last year, we burned 100,000 litres of diesel, and that was the guts of €80,000 and this year, our diesel bill is going to be €140,000.”
“I remember in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, green diesel prices were 32c/L, and the carbon tax went up to 2c.”
“It is not too much when you are only buying a couple of hundred litres, but when you are buying 100,000+ litres, a couple of cents make a big difference.”
Those are the words of agricultural contractor Phillip Hughes, from Bagenalstown, County Carlow.
He took over the family business, Hughes Agri, in its 47th year, two years ago from his father, Phillip, and uncle, Vincent.
The brothers saw an opportunity in their local area for baling hay and tillage services.
Some of their first investments included a Tarrup 602B forage harvester, a John Deere 550 baler, a Massey Ferguson drill, a Massey Ferguson 188 tractor, a John Deere 955 combine (for £12,000) and a Ford 5000 (for £1,000).
They later upgraded to a Kverneland 10x trailed harvester followed by a New Holland 1900 self-propelled harvester.
“There are pictures of me at home when I was four sitting on a tractor,” Phillip Hughes (junior), who completed his Green Cert at Kildalton Agricultural College from 2009 to 2010, added to That’s Farming.
“All I can remember when I was growing up is being out on the silage harvester and in the tractor cab with my father. It was something I always wanted to do. In 1999, my father bought his first new tractor, a Valmet 8550.”
From October 2011 to May 2012, Phillip worked for Reymer Ag Contracting Limited in New Zealand with his cousins, Damien, and William Whitford, drawing silage and maize.
In addition, Phillip farms a tillage and beef farm (set over 120-acres) and purchases 60 Friesian calves annually.
The tillage aspect of the enterprise includes 100-acres of maize, 50-acres of fodder beet and 200-acres of corn, winter wheat and winter barley.
“In 2016, I took over the rented land on the farm when the Young Farmers Scheme (YFS) came in. I grow 100-acres of maize to sell to dairy farmers and 50-acres of beet to sell to dairy and beef farmers.”
Agricultural contracting service
Hughes Agri employs one full-time person, a second operator for 10-months, and eight part-time workers during peak times, serving a 30-mile radius of Bagenalstown.
His uncle and father build the business up through word of mouth, with Phillip making his stamp by showcasing the firm’s work through Facebook.
Hughes Agri offers the following services: mowing, baling, raking, wrapping, wagon silage, pit silage, maize harvesting, beet harvesting, fertiliser spreading, slurry spreading, a full tillage service (plough, harrow, and sow).
“We always try the best we can to keep customers happy and try to be there when we say we are going to be there. We try to complete as good a job as we can.”
“There are customers in the business since my father and uncle started. I am 30, and there are customers there for as long as I can remember.”
“Silage is our main service. In addition, we do a good bit of silage with the wagon, pit silage, and bales. We do 1,700-acres of pit silage between first and second cut with the forage harvester.”
“We do 800-acres of silage with the wagon between first, second, and third-cut silage. So, we produce 5,000 bales of silage and 6,000-8,000 bales of straw – depending on the year.”
In addition, they plough and sow 1,500 acres of winter and spring cereals.
Their fleet includes two CLAAS ARION 650 tractors, a Valtra T191 tractor, a John Deere 7920 tractor, two John Deere 6920s tractors, and a John Deere 6215R tractor.
“The two CLAAS tractors are upgraded regularly. They have a 5,000-hour warranty on them.”
“We try to trade them in every three years to keep them fresh so that we know what our costs are going to be and just to have the payments on them. So, we will not have any unexpected repair bills with them.”
“We do the maintenance for the other tractors unless an electrical problem arises. My cousins, Damien Whitford or Michael Dunphy, maintain the John Deere tractors.”
Other items include two Strautmann forage wagons, a CLAAS JAGUAR 880 forage harvester, three 24ft triaxle Smyth trailers, two Smyth 20ft Super Cube trailers, and a 20ft Tandem Axle Dooley Grain and Silage Trailer.
In addition, they have a 2015 McHale Fusion 3 Plus integrated baler wrapper, a New Holland Roll-Belt 560 round baler, two butterfly Taarup mowers, two Taarup 10ft mowers (front and rear), CLAAS Liner 2800 and 2700 rakes, a JCB 435s AGRI wheel loader and a JCB 414S wheel loader.
The tillage machinery includes a HORSCH seed drill, two five furrow Kverneland 150 B ploughs, Kuhn Accord one pass 3m seed Endrill, an Armer Salmon (twin-row) beet harvester, and a NAVIGATOR – 24m Trailed sprayer from HARDI.
The slurry and dung equipment include an NC 2,750-gallon tanker (with a trailing shoe) and a 10T Bredal spreader.
The equipment he harvests with includes a John Deere CTS 9780i (with a 25ft cutter) and a New Holland TX32.
Fuel prices, Ad Blue costs, (diesel exhaust fluid), and oil expenses are among the challenges Hughes Agri face.
“I think contractors should be able to claim back on carbon tax because he/she is doing hard work.”
“He/she can claim the tax back on the diesel, but if the price goes up, it is harder for the contractor to pass on the increase to the farmer.”
“I would like the carbon tax to be abolished because all the tractors have Ad Blue or filters. So, there would not be many emissions.”
“Every contractor has a new modern tractor with Ad-Blue or GPS whereas the farmer might only have a 1980 Ford tractor with no GPS or Ad Blue or anything in it.”
The business owners believe a “good reliable” backup service, a “good” customer relationship, and to keep on top of everything are the key elements of running a successful business.
“If you work hard, you will get the benefit. In my opinion, hard work is the main thing; agricultural contracting is not for the faint-hearted.”
Plans and the future of Irish agricultural contracting
Hughes Agri intends to continue upgrading a piece of their machinery annually, aim for 2,000-acres pit silage and 700-acres of maize and increase whole crop acreages.
“I definitely think it would want to come in for invoicing here that if a farmer went over a month without paying, you get charged interest on your account.”
“In New Zealand, they charge interest on your account if it goes over a month.”
“It is the same as any other business; if you go anywhere to buy anything, it is put on an account. So, we are providing a service too, and agricultural contracting is a business.”
“I have seen it in the last few years that the dairy farmer is getting busier calving. So, we are doing a lot of cleaning dung out of sheds and drawing it because farmers do not have the time to do it.”
“We can go in and have it done in half the time they would be at, and you are bringing out bigger loads with the wheel loader than what they are bringing.”
“Also, it saves them the hassle (if they are busy calving, they do not have to be going off with a load). It could take them three days to draw out the dung where we would have it done in a half-day or a day.”
“It has been done right because the agricultural contractor is doing it and knows what he/she is doing regarding tillage and silage or any service.”
“In my view, the war will impact the commodity prices with farming and grain prices more; it might make Ireland more self-sufficient, producing their own feedstuff for animals and humans,” the agricultural contractor concluded.
To share your story like this Carlow agricultural contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming – [email protected]
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