Cork clan's business is gearing up for a busy year
Regular investment in new equipment is a priority for Cronin agricultural contractors who specialise in round baling and slurry spreading in the Millstreet area of Cork
The Cronin family run a baled silage and slurry spreading contracting firm based in Millstreet, Co Cork. The business was started by Ben Cronin in the 1970s and, while he is still very much involved, it is his sons John, Darren and Declan who now run the operation.
Round baling is at the heart of this business. The Cronins say that Millstreet is an area where there aren't a lot of self-propelled silage contractor as a lot of local farmers opt for bales over pit silage.
"We have a lot of hilly ground so it could be related to that," says John Cronin.
"But another factor is the machinery weight issue; my customers are keen not to have massive machines like self-propelled harvesters or even combined baler-wrappers coming onto their land if possible. We always ensure that our balers are fitted with extra wide flotation tyres for that reason. It's the same with our Major slurry tankers - we fit the maximum sized tyres possible to prevent ground damage at this time of year."
An average season sees the team make 24,000 silage bales. Some customers in the local area can take up to 1,000 bales each, so demand has been growing steadily over the last few years.
In addition, the team make around 1,000 bales of hay each season but they usually keep this to a minimum because it can overlap with demand from customers looking to bale silage. The Cronins work within a 20-mile radius of their Millstreet base and that allows them to take in a broad range of customers.
In terms of baling, the Cronins' first foray into McHale balers came in 2008 when they purchased a couple of F500 machines from local dealer, Atkins Farm Machinery.
They had previously used John Deere 578 balers, but they experienced a couple of wet seasons and blockages were a problem.
Things went well with the F500s so in 2012 they were replaced with two new McHale F5500 balers.
Roll onto 2015 and the team revealed they are set to replace the F5500s with two new models, again from Atkins.
"We decided to trade in again for this season as the balers have held their value quite well and it makes it possible to get a good deal," said Mr Cronin.
Trading in their balers after three or four seasons' work allows them to keep up with the latest technology on offer and keeps any significant parts' replacement costs at bay.
According to Mr Cronin, the key improvements on the F5500 baler are better intake capabilities, better chopping options and much smoother drop floor operation, which can be done from the tractor cab.
It uses a split-drive gearbox, which ensures that power is evenly distributed between the rollers in the bale chamber and the 2.1m galvanised pick-up and chopper unit.
The crop roller on the intake has proven important, with the team buying a rake a few seasons ago that allowed them to pull in wider swaths and increase baler throughput (the crop roller helps to level out uneven swaths).
The F5500 is a 15-knife chopper baler. The chopping has come in for praise from customers for its versatility.
The operator has three options for chopping: they can choose to engage and chop with a bank of seven knives or a bank of eight knives.
Should fine chopping be required, the operator can choose to engage both knife banks, which will give a 15-knife chopper system - capable of delivering a chop length of around 65mm.
The control box in the cab features a large graphic display which allows the operator to control machine features such as the drop floor, knife position, knife selection and tailgate position.
McHales also designed a new netter for the F5500. The net tension can be adjusted on a variable pulley on the right hand side of the machine.
"We have a good relationship with McHale and with Atkins - even though we usually do our own maintenance, it's a great help that Atkins are only down the road if we need anything," said Mr Cronin.
"The F5500s are quite low maintenance. We have an automatic greasing system that supports the bearings. When a bale is ejected from the machine, the main moving parts automatically receive a measured amount of pressurised grease in sequence through individual steel pipes.
"Once the PTO is engaged, a continuous oiling system supplies oil to the chamber drive chains, the rotor drive chain, the pick-up chains and the cam track."
The Cronins are understandably particular when it comes to the build specification of their balers.
Subtle changes can be seen compared to the standard specification level of an F5500 baler.
These include the addition of extra wide 560/45 R22.5 tyres, which are more commonly seen on a Fusion combined baler wrapper. Another detail includes the addition of a heavy duty PTO shaft and brakes on the baler.
The latter detail was important to the team as they do a lot of road travel between jobs and some of the roads are quite hilly in the local area.
If baling is the flagship job for this outfit, the Cronins' slurry spreading service dovetails nicely into the working calendar.
A small amount of hedge cutting is also done because it suits the quieter times of the season.
"We obviously couldn't do much slurry during the last few weeks with the cold temperatures, but we now have a backlog of work to get through over the coming weeks," said Mr Cronin.
"The shoulders of the year can be quieter times in the contracting game so you have to set up to allow yourself an income year round. That's the thinking behind the slurry aspect of the business for us."
Interestingly, there's no time for trailing shoe with this family -it's all about the splash plate. "You have to listen to what your customers want, and my customers always look for the most reliable method of getting the slurry out," said Mr Cronin.
"As I mentioned earlier, we have a lot of bales in this area and I've heard a few horror stories of trailing shoe tankers getting blocked easily. Back in the day when grant aid was around it made a few people consider the shoe, but that's gone now. We think the splash plate is here to stay."
A couple of Major tankers are used for slurry spreading duties. These come in for praise for their strong build and, despite weighing up to 10t when fully laden, the huge low flotation tyres keep ground rutting to a minimum even in soft conditions.
The team are also firm New Holland men. Support on this front comes from another local dealer - Coleman's of Millstreet. Most baling is done with a New Holland TM 140 which the Cronins praise for its power.
A second New Holland TM 140 is used for slurry spreading work, or whatever is in demand at the time.
There is a possibility of looking at a newer model later this year, but for now the Cronins' priority is to get their new balers in place and ready for the 2015 season.
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