As part of this week’s Agricultural Contractor of the Week segment, That’s Farming, profiles Conor Beirne Farm Services, Roscommon. He discusses cutting 1,000-acres of silage, increasing fuel and machinery prices, how his customers are saving €20/acre, and his view on the sector’s future.
In 2016, Conor Beirne from Elphin, County Roscommon established his agricultural contracting business by purchasing a Strautmann Giga-Vitesse 3601 silage wagon.
He found his opening in the market when a local agricultural contractor ceased offering precision-chop pit silage services.
The Roscommon native grew up on a dairy farm and worked with him for three years when he left school.
He also worked overseas for several years with Lorclon Limited, completing shuttering in the UK and had a stint with Jim Jenkins in Cheltenham, England.
“Cathal Quinn was very good to me as he had a list of customers, and he gave me them,” Conor Beirne told That’s Farming.
“I got probably 80% of his customers, and over the last few years, it has been word of mouth.”
Roscommon agricultural contactor
Conor Beirne Farm Services offers a limited-service package due to his work with MacMull Plant Hire.
He employs his nephew and one part-time employee and works in Elphin, Carrick-on-Shannon, Kilmore, and the surrounding areas.
These services include reseeding, disc harrowing, power harrowing, direct seeding, lime-spreading, and wagon silage.
“I did a little advertising last year when I bought the lime spreader, but I would not do a lot.”
“So, I try to do work as good as I can and get customers through word of mouth.”
“Farmers seem to like wagon silage more than precision-chop silage, and that is a big help to us. We keep getting a few customers every year and growing it nice and steady.”
Conor saw how silage wagons could benefit him when his brother, a dairy farmer, employed an agricultural contractor who used them.
“It was cheaper to get into pit silage with one wagon than trying to buy a self-propelled harvester or trailed harvester.”
“I started with low enough acres. I said I would chance wagon silage and see how it would go, and we have our acres figure to 1,000-acres, now.”
“Honestly, I did not find it hard. Without too much advertising or asking anyone, we seemed to secure two to four new customers yearly.”
Working overseas enabled Conor to finance his machinery directly from savings.
He owns a 4T Hitachi mini digger, an Agristem disc harrow, Maschio power harrow, a Güttler Greenmaster direct seeder and a Bredal K65 lime-spreader (which he purchased last summer).
“I bought a second silage wagon, a Pottinger Faro, this year.”
“Padraig from MacMull Plant Hire will run one of his tractors on the Pottinger Faro wagon I bought this year.”
“I said I would buy the second wagon to keep customers happy, be there on time, and if anything ever happened a wagon, we have a backup.”
He runs a New Holland T7.210 tractor in his fleet.
“I am lucky my neighbour, Sean Quinn, carries out most of the maintenance. Most of the time, I bring the tractor to W.R Shaw Limited, Tullamore, for its services.”
“They provide a good service, and it is a one-hour spin on the tractor, but it is well worth it.
“Working with MacMull Plant Hire keeps the tractor busy for the wintertime. I am lucky enough I have that work with him for the winter.”
“Spring and autumn look after themselves. It is in wintertime you have to try to keep as busy as you can.”
Conor listed increasing machinery and fuel prices as two of his most significant challenges.
“Machinery and diesel prices are going steadily up all the time. Diesel prices were low enough last year, but that was a one-off.”
“I realistically have to change my big wagon very soon, and a new one is €130,000. It would be very hard for the acreage I cover to justify that price for a machine that works five weeks of the year.”
“The overheads of running a business or even a small business are getting very expensive.”
“The biggest challenges for us were to grow the business and get new customers. Thankfully, yearly we have been lucky; we have got a few new clients.”
“The way the whole farming industry is going, the government seem to want farmers to produce less, so, for the likes of me, that is not good because if there are fewer cattle, there is less silage.”
He hopes to see a continued increase in farmers choosing wagon silage. Conor claims some of his clients changed from previously using a forage harvester.
“It might be €20/acre cheaper than your self-propelled silage outfit.”
“Feedback we get from farmers is cattle are more content on silage in the winter and cows, will eat, lie down and chew the cud.”
“Sometimes, when they are on self-propelled silage, they seem to be constantly eating.”
Conor believes the key elements to succeed in the field are “to provide a good as service as you can, have no breakdowns and have your word”.
“If you say you are going to be there at a certain day, you try to be there as close to that day or the day itself. If you are straight with farmers, they tend to be straight enough with you”.
His take-home message from working in the UK is, “You have to work hard wherever you are, and no one will give you anything for free”.
Conor intends to keep growing his business, have lower overheads where possible, complete good work, upgrade/maintain his machinery, and buy a second tractor.
“The government are paying farmers to produce less, and if there are fewer cattle, there is less silage and all of them services.”
“If that keeps going the way it is, the smaller contractor is going to find it very hard to survive. So, the smaller contractor will be in jeopardy if that happens.”
“I have a customer base with 35-40 silage pits. If farmers, a lot of whom are elderly, are going to get paid not to have cattle, a lot of them will probably take it,” the Roscommon agricultural contractor concluded.
To share your story like this Roscommon agricultural contractor, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]
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