Contractor of the year: Kildare team make the cut
Headons are financially sensible while adopting latest machinery, ensuring a strong bid in battle for contractor award
This week we profile Eugene and Garrett Headon, who are the second of our three contractor finalists battling it out for the title of Farming Independent/Zurich Insurance Contractor of the Year.
The winner will be announced at a special awards ceremony in Dublin on Friday, May 9.
When the applications for our "Contractor of the Year" competition were coming in back in February you could tell fairly quickly which contractors were destined to make the later stages of the title race.
The judging panel were looking for evidence of sensible policies on what are traditionally thorny areas for contractors, such as invoicing, cash flow management and bad-debt management.
One such application demonstrating evidence of all three came from father and son contracting team Eugene and Garrett Headon, who are based in Naas, Co Kildare.
This outfit specialises in two core activities; tillage operations and silage harvesting.
In terms of tillage work, the Headons offer full stubble to stubble services, whether plough-based, min till or strip tillage. Alternatively they offer single operations such as sowing or spraying only.
This option is to allow farmers to do their own work where possible.
The Headon team runs three ploughs together; a six- and a five-furrow Kverneland, and a four-furrow Overum.
The latter is used for marking out fields and finishing headlands whilst the five- and six- knock furrows knock out the centres. Tractors include a 2006 Massey Ferguson 6499, 2012 Valtra T173 and 2012 Massey Ferguson 6480.
These are usually followed by a tracked 2001 Claas Challenger 55 pulling a 5m Cross double press for levelling and tightening of the seedbed.
A 6m Horsch Pronto drill then falls in behind ably pulled by a 2006 Massey Ferguson 7495.
Rolling is carried out using a 6m Cross ring roller.
The Headons like to keep a man on their 2009 JCB 414S loader full-time, while drilling (he is charged with keeping seed to the drills and picking larger stones which the roller cannot put down).
When operating this system, they have the capability to plough, till, sow and roll 100 ac per day.
The Headons have noticed a rising demand for strip tillage, for which they use a 4.8m Claydon allowing work rates of 70-80ac per day.
They have found that diesel consumption in strip tillage is far less than ploughing, with typical fuel use per acre of 5-7 litres (including straw harrowing, spraying off and rolling) compared to 18-20 litres per acre for a full plough-based system.
Typical labour savings are impressive; in the order of €500 per day when compared to ploughing.
Whichever system is used the Headons cover between 1,200 and 1,500ac annually, mostly sown in the autumn with the balance sown in the spring.
Some 60pc of this is for themselves with the balance being contracted.
Typical rates for the plough-based system are €70/ac plus VAT while the min till system comes in at €56/ac plus VAT (including spraying off green bridge).
Strip till is charged at €40/ac plus VAT (including 1x pass straw harrow and spraying off green bridge).
The team run a chaser bin to minimise soil compaction and increase harvest efficiency.
This keeps trailers off the field, although all trailers are fitted with flotation tyres and restricted to tramlines to prevent rutting.
Trailers are only loaded facing out the gate. Traditionally the Headons used Redrock trailers but since 2012 they have moved towards Smyth trailers.
The judges inquired about this switch.
"We feel they are a well-equipped trailer with excellent lights and brakes," came the response. "They are also made in Ireland, as is our Cross machinery, which is good for the economy."
Combining is done via a 2012 Claas Lexion 770 TT fitted with a 35 foot Vario header, telematics and GPS lightbar. Tracks and four-wheel drive allow combining in tough conditions.
In terms of machinery replacement policy, the Headons say they don't have a fixed plan.
Each machine is assessed on its own merits. If it needs to go it will be replaced, similarly if a good deal comes up they will consider it. Strict in-house servicing and preventative maintenance programs are allowing this team to keep tractors longer.
All tractors and machinery are kept in a clean state and over the winter. They are washed, greased, polished and stored under cover along with having any jobs required done.
The Headons carry spares on machines where failures can be anticipated. For example, it is not uncommon for plough tyres to get punctured when ploughing headlands. Therefore they carry a spare wheel with the ploughs.
The Headons have also made brackets for the Claydon drill to carry spare coulter tines which are prone to breakages in stony conditions. The aim is simple – eliminate downtime.
For repairs the Headons have a well-kitted out workshop with a bench, hand tools and powertools, pillar drills, vices, arc welders, storage shelves, an air gun and air compressor.
These items are kept locked in a container for security purposes.
They also have a specialised wheel-changing cart which allows large wheels, especially row crops, to be handled and changed safely. For larger repairs they rely on local dealers Stacey's Garage and Kelly's of Borris.
Wagons win out
The Headons demonstrated dynamism with their recent move away from Claas self-propelled silage harvesters after 20 seasons. In its place are two Irish-made Malone Trojan wagons which they hope will address the problems they found with the self-propelled system (excessive diesel consumption and peaks in labour demand).
They are confident this system will prove far more fuel efficient, while also reducing their requirement for labour.
Pressed on why the change was made, the judges were told: "The self-propelled system proved too erratic in labour demands which was hard to manage from our point of view.
"In addition, the fixed costs of a wagon-based outfit are spread more effectively over the 1,000- 1,200 acres which we aim to cover each year."
The figures are hard to argue with. Diesel consumption with the self-propelled outfit worked out at €22/ac plus VAT. The team estimate the wagon should come in at €15/ac plus VAT.
In addition, labour saving should be in the order of €4 per acre plus VAT. This represents an approximate saving of €10-€11 per acre. There will be other ancillary benefits such as reduced insurance and running costs associated with the self-propelled.
The team aim to share this benefit between themselves and the customer. Regarding debt and its management, this outfit has a strict policy: they always pay their bills in full and on time. They check through all accounts before settling them.
Diesel is paid for monthly, while machinery repayments are structured to match cash flow. They try and have no more than three to five annual payments on a machine, though the combine is an exception at six. They aim to not change a machine before it has been paid for. The Headons customer credit policy is sensible and fair. They do not bill customers upon completion of a job, but rather leave it for a week to 10 days as they feel an immediate bill can look a 'a bit pushy'.
Generally each customer pays at the same time each year. They try and avoid working for customers who change contractor every year since these jobs generally get awarded to the cheapest contractor and usually prove hardest to get paid from.
Records of jobs completed are kept the traditional way; with a pen and journal, while other cash income/outgoings may be monitored through monthly bank statements.
On marketing, the Headons have set up a successful Facebook page which has allowed them to gain a greater audience.
They update this regularly with pictures of machinery to demonstrate the different jobs being done. To date they have 1,500 likes.
They have also have business cards and compliment slips printed and fitted all tractors with stickers advertising their name.
"These items are all of a similar design and in conjunction with the Facebook page help us to promote ourselves as a brand," they said.
From a health and safety viewpoint, the Headons insist they will not run a machine without a PTO cover in place. Staff are not allowed to wear baggy clothes which may become entangled in a machine and all staff must wear steel-toe boots.
Drivers have adequate training on a machine before being sent to operate it. The aim is to match an operator's responsibility with his/her experience.
With regard to the environment, worn parts are sent for recycling as is used oil from engines and transmissions. Similarly triple-rinsed spray cans are collected by Farm Relief for recycling. Overall, the judges felt this was a hardworking and dynamic team with great practical experience.
The Headons' great strengths of being financially sensible and adopting the latest machinery will ensure they remain a viable contracting business for years to come.
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