Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 21 September 2017

New contractor body goes nationwide to cater for all

Bruce Lett

THe recently-formed Association of Farm Contractors in Ireland Ltd (FCI) is already gaining considerable momentum.

Cork contractor Timmy O'Brien is the FCI's new chairman and Meath-based Peter Farrelly its secretary.

Mr O'Brien said the group had branches in Kilkenny, Meath, Wexford, Galway, Sligo, Offaly, Tipperary, Cork and Limerick, but aimed to expand.

"We are aiming to be a 32 county association and have Northern Ireland covered as well," he said, adding that the midlands and east of the country would be targeted next.

The FCI aims to make local branches as active as possible and to facilitate group discussion and possible group action on issues that affect their businesses.

"It's a discussion group between contractors. Contractors are under pressure and they need some outlet," Mr O'Brien explained.

"Contractors really need to stand shoulder to shoulder and try and figure out where they are going."

Agricultural contracting is a tough business to be in and one of the main difficulties, according to Mr O'Brien, is that contractors don't like to trust each other.

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However, he believes an active branch structure may help them overcome this.

"What I do notice at meetings we have had is that when contractors do get together, you can't shut them up. They have mighty conversations and discussion among themselves about the contracting business, problems and so on," Mr O'Brien said.

"As an agricultural contracting group, what we are trying to do is get a bit of notice out there to try and put a handle on things.

"Down in Cork, contractors have had it tough for the last few years but are coming out of it now. But the west of Ireland is in an awful bad way, contractors are barely holding off to make repayments on machinery."

Mr O'Brien is an agricultural contractor himself and is based in the north Cork area of Churchtown, near Mallow.

While he has been dealing with farmers for more than 26 years, he says some contractors' clients fail to appreciate the service they provide.

"Often contractors don't get the recognition for the service they have provided, like working late into the night because the forecast is bad and then climbing into bed at four or five in the morning. Some people don't recognise this as a valued service and that's soul- destroying for contractors."

The cost of diesel is a huge problem this year, and the cost of silage and grain harvests will significantly increase as a result, Mr O'Brien warned.

"Diesel was 48c/l in 2010, and at the moment it's 93-94c/l. That's nearly double the cost of diesel two years ago and is going to add a cost of €15 to €25 an acre on pit silage."

Mr O'Brien feels the black economy is also a problem but has a possible solution.

"A farmer can write out a cheque for anybody and not have an invoice to show for it. If farmers could claim back the vat element on their contracting bill on making silage or hay, the same as they can for building a shed and farm maintenance, then, when you get a cheque off a farmer, he has to have an invoice to match that cheque. That would do away with a lot of the black economy."

Those operating in the black economy often do not have the correct insurance, but the FCI is trying to educate farmers on that issue too.

"Make sure that the contractor is properly insured and he is covered for 'hire and reward', because a lot of insurance coverage is based on the fact that it is 'not for hire or reward'.

"If there was an accident in the farmer's place it could come back on the farmer," Mr O'Brien warned.

Meanwhile, the FCI is to enlist professional help to get a handle on the true cost of running a contracting business.

"We will educate ourselves at FCI as well as help educate and advise all our member contractors too."

contractors

The FCI recently lobbied the Government on the concerns of contractors.

"We recently held a day in Dublin and invited all TDs and senators to speak to a delegation of the FCI. We had a very good response, we met up to 70 TDs and senators.

"We are currently waiting for a meeting with the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, about the cost of running machinery as we feel something has to be done."

Mr O'Brien is adamant that the FCI will be owned and run by its members.

"We are looking after the small guy with just a baler as well as the big fella," he stressed.

Membership is €200 a year and those interested should call 087-755 1111.

Indo Farming