As part of this week’s Ag Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming profiles John Stone. He discusses following his heart and becoming an agricultural contractor.
Until 22 years ago, John Stone from Luggacurren, Portlaoise, was a full-time farmer. He exited the dairy industry to concentrate full-time on agricultural contracting, and he now runs this alongside a mixed enterprise.
He invested in a ten-year-old Hitachi ZX 130-3 digger to undertake his farm work, and from there, he received his first-ever job request, which came from Farm Relief Services, to help construct one of their buildings.
Following this, the business developed into offering pit silage, mulching, further digger work/groundwork, opening a shale quarry, and constructing farm roadways for dairy farmers.
“I always had a big interest in machinery more than dairying. To be honest, my heart was always on the machinery side of it. However, I found a better lifestyle off agricultural contracting rather than dairying as well,” John Stone told That’s Farming.
John Stone Plant and Agri
The business employs John, his son, Ben, and one full-time operator with his wife, Annabelle, and daughter, Jessica, helping at peak times.
John Stone Plant and Agri serves around a 30-mile radius for hedge-cutting contracts and up to a 15-mile radius for farm roadway bookings from the firm’s base
Through the years, he built up his customers through word of mouth, with many repeat clients making up the current list.
“I have lots of customers I complete hedge-cutting for every year, and then many clients that I undertake a roadway for this year and another roadway in two years.”
“I believe a man/woman is only as good as his/her last job. So, therefore, I like to complete the job as well as possible.
“My policy is to complete good work and not overcharge because you can only skin a sheep once, so if you shear every year or if you do good work and do not overcharge, the customer returns.”
“I would like to add also that I appreciate everyone who has given me work over the years and a living and that I am always appreciative to a man/woman who gives me work.”
Agricultural contracting and plant hire services
John Stone Plant and Agri offer services including mulching, hedge mulching, farm and forest roadway maintenance, groundworks, landscaping, digging out tanks and drawing shale.
Furthermore, for around three months each year, the business carries out mulching, equating to around 3,000-acres, and makes up to 500-acres of pit silage for the farm and some local clients.
“To give you an insight into my work, during December, January, and February, I carry out hedge-cutting or mulching. Then, from February onwards, it would be the farm roadways, and during the summer, I have the pit silage in between that.”
“I would also like to add that we complete landscaping, groundworks and that type of work which also would be summer work, but every year, it can differ. However, I have had no trouble getting work for the last five to six years.”
He maintains farm roadways for up to 30 dairy farmers in his area. He believes preserving these lanes is becoming a more important issue for the industry to reduce lameness in dairy cows.
When John puts down a roadway, he offers a harder shale for pathways many cows travel on and roadways near the milking parlour than when the milking platform is further away.
“So, I try to use as soft shale possible on the top of the roadway for cow’s feet so that the shale does not get into their feet.”
His tractor fleet consists of two DEUTZ-FAHR 6185 Agrotrons and a Deutz-Fahr 6215 RC Shift, with Eardly Agricultural Services repairing tractors under guarantee.
“The tractors are under guarantee, and I change them every four or five years. I try to keep my tractors at a high standard so they make good money as trade-ins.”
Other items include a JCB 413S wheel loader, The Volvo EC140 crawler excavator, a Hitachi 2.7t digger, an 18t and 20t Smyth dump trailer, a Krone front and back disc mowers, a Krone rake, and a Krone tedder.
The business also has a CLAAS Jaguar-970 self-propelled forage harvester, two 18ft Smyth tandem-axle silage trailers, a 22ft Smyth silage trailer with rear steering axle, a Murray Gravel Road Grader, and a Bomford hedge-cutter.
Challenges impacting the business include sourcing staff and rising running costs such as diesel and oil prices.
“For example, diesel prices are double what they used to cost me per month, which is a big issue.”
“So, you have to charge extra now to make it pay. For instance, if you take a tank of AdBlue, which was €450 a little over a year ago, now it is €1,200, which is just an example of the costs.”
“I think the cost of replacing machines will be a major issue down the road.”
The future of Irish agricultural contracting
John plans to continue operating his business, updating machines and believes that suckler/beef farming (running 50 Charolais-cross cows) and agricultural contracting “work well” together for him.
“I have no plans to branch into other services at the minute because I am busy with what I am doing. I have enough to do with what I have going on between farming and agricultural contracting.”
“I think agricultural contracting is a viable business but an expensive business. In my opinion, it is going to be expensive on the customer and the agricultural contractor as it goes forward with diesel costs etc. and replacing machines.”
“In my view, agricultural contracting is not viable unless we are in a position to change our machines and keep them updated. So, I feel we have to charge enough money to make it viable that way.”
“I appreciate everyone who gave me work and a living over the years. I always appreciate a man/woman who gives me work.”
“I would also like to include my daughter, Gemma, who helps out on the family business.”
“She gave up her job as a social care worker to look after her grandfather, Gerald, and won the Laois Carer of the Year Award 2022 on Thursday night this week,” the agricultural contractor concluded.
To share your story like this Laois agricultural contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming – [email protected]