As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Conor O’Neill from O’Neill Agri and Plant Hire Limited, who works in partnership with his brother, Ciaran. Conor discusses working overseas, establishing the firm and increasing costs.
In December 2020, Conor O’Neill, and his brother, Ciaran, from Boyle, County Roscommon, registered their business, O’Neill Agri and Plant Hire Limited.
Agricultural contracting is a long-standing tradition in the O’Neill family with their uncle in the field for over three decades.
“I grew up with agricultural contracting with my uncle, sitting every day in a tractor with him since I was eight or nine years of age. So, I developed a love for it then,” Conor O’Neill told That’s Farming.
“I worked in England driving machines in Lor Contracting Limited and Roadbridge. So, I worked in several different places to tie together money to buy machinery.”
“We started small maybe five years ago, and we grew it a small bit every year. We said we would form a company when it came to taking wages.”
“Therefore, we could put all the money into the company account and take a wage out of the company account ourselves, so it worked out best that way.”
O’Neill Agri and Plant Hire Limited
Conor and his brother, Ciaran, employ two workers, alongside their uncle, serving a Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, and Mayo customer base.
O’Neill Agri and Plant Hire Limited offer muck-spreading, slurry spreading (with umbilical system, splash plate, dribble bar), baling, spraying, mulching, formworks, slatted shed foundations, and general plant hire.
The brothers began expanding their fleet and services with two McHale F5500 second-hand balers, a Doda (4-inch pipe) LESS umbilical slurry pumping system, and a plant hire service.
“We got a good bit of help from our uncle and got a few of his customers. Then, we started doing the work that he did not do such as umbilical slurry spreading, and plant hire).
We gained a lot of new customers. We are still getting new customers, even today. So, you could be doing a bit spraying, and you could be back next year with a baler or doing slurry for them.”
“When we started, we cut 200 to 250-acres annually and 3,000-bales to 3,500-bales. We are up on 900-acres now with between 8,000-10,000 bales per year.”
“We are spreading slurry from 100 to 120 tanks a year from small tanks to big tanks.”
The list of machinery they own include a Doda (5-inch pipe) umbilical pumping system, a KRONE Swadro TC640 rake, Malone Procut trailed mower, JF trailed disc mower conditioner, MAJOR cyclone mulcher, and an 800-litre sprayer.
Other items include a Marshall rear discharge dung spreader, two 2000-gallon Hi-Spec slurry tankers, an Agquip 7.5m dribble bar with Vogelsang macerator, a triaxle Eurospec low-loader, a 12-tonne KANE dump trailer, and a Hitachi ZX130-5 BOGMASTER.
Their tractor fleet consists of a SAME Silver 110, SAME Iron 140, SAME Antares 130, SAME Silver 130, New Holland TM140 and a Deutz Fahr Agrotron M610.
“Maintenance has not been too extreme tractor-wise, you will have your few pieces every year.”
“We do all our maintenance ourselves in our workshop. Jacob’s Service Station in Enniscrone oversees the maintenance of the SAME and Deutz tractors.”
“We would do the work on the New Holland tractor ourselves because we know the New Holland tractor and the work involved.”
According to Conor, as an agricultural contractor, “every day is a school day”, but they try to overcome any challenges that face them.
“The biggest challenge was trying to get off the ground, trying to look after money, keep money together, and meet payments.”
“If you keep diesel costs and all your bills paid, you should be able to take a wage at the end of the day.”
“I knew there would be plenty of risk in getting into agricultural contracting, and not every day would be a right day.”
“However, I am never afraid to take a chance and lucky enough, it worked out good enough for us.”
Conor has experienced significant changes in agricultural contracting since embarking on the venture five years ago.
“Weather is the biggest change; you will never get two years the same. Also, the price of fuel is going up every year, which is very challenging and the expense of parts.”
“We were filling tanks for a couple of hundred euros when I started. Now, it is well over a thousand euros to fill the same tank.”
“You would nearly buy a couple of hundred parts one time; now, you are getting a small box for the same money.”
Conor provided some advice to those considering entering the field in 2021.
“Do not go in head over heels into anything. Go nice and easy and start small as you grow the business along.”
“If you go in too big and think you will get it all this work in the first year, you are not going to.”
“It is a business you are going to have to build up over a couple of years. If you go borrowing too much the first year and buying too much, you will go under.”
“The key element of running a successful agricultural contracting firm is to do good work. If you leave good work behind you, you will always be back.”
The brothers intend to keep expanding the company and achieve a fleet of New Holland tractors in the coming years.
They encourage the 2021 busy workload of formworks, building slatted tanks. Formworks and concreting are a skill they learnt in a demolition company in the UK, as alluded to earlier.
Conor shared his thoughts on the future of agricultural contracting.
“I see a future in agricultural contracting; I do not know any different, love what I do, and I cannot picture myself doing anything different.”
“There will be challenges. They are on about changing this slurry spreading date with no spreading slurry after a certain date in September next year and closing the slurry period, making every year shorter and shorter, which is going to be challenging.”
“I would be hoping that in 5-10 years that I would be nearly at a stage where I would not have to work myself.”
“That, I would keep going around pricing work and look after the office side of things and pay employees to do the work,” the Mountbellew Agricultural College, Green-Cert graduate concluded.
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