'It was great to network with other women in contracting'
Carroll Agri Contractors is a family-run contracting business offering harvesting and baling services. Derek Casey caught up with Louise Carroll to find out how she balances working in the business with her studies at Waterford IT
Derek Casey: Tell me about the history of your contracting business
Louise Carroll: My father Niall established the business with the help of his parents in 1978. He started off fairly modestly with just two Ford tractors, a 4600 and a 7600, as well as a Claas baler and Taarup mower.
It has grown steadily since then. He ran a fleet of Fords until 1996 when he changed to Valmets. The first Valmet he purchased was an 8050 and it went on from there.
It is a family business, but who specifically is involved and who does what?
We are all heavily involved in the business, my father and brother Nicky work full-time with the contracting business and I help out during the summer months and at the weekends when I'm home from studying Agricultural Science in Waterford IT. My other brother Eoin works full-time with an accountancy firm, but he also helps out when he has time during the odd weekend.
What contracting services do you offer?
Silage harvesting, baling, corn cutting and sowing, reseeding, beet harvesting and sowing, dung spreading, slurry spreading, spraying, and fertiliser spreading and plant hire.
Tell us about how you manage Ag Science studies and working in an agri contracting business.
Throughout school I was always into farming and the contracting business, so it was a no-brainer to continue on and study it in college.
First, I completed two years in Kildalton Agricultural College, where I received my Green Cert. Then I decided I wanted to continue my studies, so I transferred into WIT to complete a BSc in Agriculture, and I'm now in my final year of that course.
You must be busy; how do you split your time?
It's hard to manage both because when you're at home, you're always on call, there's no getting away from the work!
I suppose my approach is to try to do as much work during the week when I'm down in college as there isn't as many distractions, but sometimes you just have to put the college work and assignments first, especially around exam season - even if it clashes with being busy at home.
Have Carroll Agri Contracts started offering any new services in the last few years?
My brother Nicky recently purchased a JCB JS145 track machine. He has been carrying out different jobs for local farmers, mainly drainage work.
It has been a great addition to the business because it generates work during the quieter times in the winter months when we wouldn't be as busy with the other services that we offer, like silage.
This is an issue all contractors face and we obviously find it helpful to have work on a year-round basis rather than just the traditionally busy times.
Tell us about the key machinery and tractors in the Carroll fleet
We run a fleet of seven tractors, all of which are either Valtra or Valmet by make. Models include a Valtra T234, T213, T173, T151, T170, N143 and, last but certainly not least, our favourite, the Valmet 8050!
On the grain harvesting side of the operation, we run a Claas Lexion 650 combine that has been performing well. In terms of tillage work, we run a 6m Horsch Pronto drill, while ploughing work is done with two five-furrow Kverneland ploughs.
We also have a Berthoud Sprayer, a Hardi sprayer, an Amazone fertiliser spreader, an Einbock seeder and a Heva disc harrow.
Turning to the silage harvesting side of the business, we run a Claas Jaguar 870 self-propelled forage harvester that we are very happy with. On the pit, we use a JCB 414 loader, while baling is done with a McHale Fusion 3 baler wrapper. The rest of the silage machinery we run comprises three Kverneland mowers, a Claas liner 2800 rake and five Broughan trailers.
When it comes to beet harvesting, we have an Armor Salmon harvester and sower. One of the more recent additions is the JCB JS145 track machine and low-loader.
AT A GLANCE
- Niall Carroll, Sons and Daughter Agri Contractors
- Based in: Tullow, Co Carlow
- Main services: Silage, tillage, baling, slurry, beet harvesting
- Tractor fleet: 6 x Valtra; 1 x Valmet
- Silage harvester and combine: Claas
What is the tractor or machine in the fleet that has impressed you most and why?
I would have to say the Valmet 8050, which was bought back in 2002. This is an incredible tractor; it has clocked up 14,000 hours now and hasn't ever had a spanner near it.
It's great to have a reliable and durable tractor like this in the fleet.
Outside of the tractor fleet, the 6m Horsch drill has also been a machine that has impressed us. It's great to cover ground and, since being added to the fleet, is one of those machines that has allowed us to cut down on the workload because we used to have two 3m drills before that.
We also purchased a Valtra T234 tractor last summer, which is equipped with some advanced technology, including RTK guidance and auto steer. We have been very impressed with this tractor so far and it is probably the flagship model in our fleet.
Who are the local machinery dealers that you would mainly buy from and why?
We deal with Kelly's of Kilkenny for the Valtra tractors - they are only a half an hour down the road, so it is very convenient during the busy times if we are stuck for parts. We also deal with Kelly's of Borris. We find Kelly's to be very good and the fact they are local gives a sense of security if you ever need back-up.
Our local dealers that are located in Tullow would be Gordan Hegarty's and Joe O'Toole's. As a business, we value having good relationships with machinery dealers that are located so close to our home yard in case of any breakdowns.
What's your tractor replacement policy?
We like to keep the machinery fresh as it leads to less breakdowns, which results in less downtime. We try to change the tractors every four to five years, depending on how things are going.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing agri contractors in 2019?
We feel the biggest challenge would be the labour shortages. I know from talking to others this is a huge worry throughout the agricultural sector.
Work can be so seasonal and it's hard to get workers to commit, which is understandable.
Luckily, we are fortunate enough to have the three of us to depend on during the summer months when we are at our busiest. This is a huge relief and is one of the benefits of running a family operation.
Another worry this coming year will be diesel prices. The margins are so tight in contracting already, so diesel prices on the up makes such a difference.
What are your specific interests in the contracting business?
The silage season and the harvest - they are the busiest times at home and it's great to be a part of it all.
I also have a keen interest in photography and love getting pictures of the fleet in action for our Facebook page. It is a great way of promoting the business and letting customers see our fleet of machines in action.
How do you think more women could get involved in agri contracting in Ireland?
There isn't as much stereotyping as there used to be. When I first started driving, about six years ago, there weren't many women or girls driving tractors. There seems to be loads of women taking to the wheel now and it's great to see it.
Last year, I attended a conference for 'Women in Agricultural Contracting' run by the FCI (Farm Contractors Ireland). It was great to meet women with the same interests and background and to build up a network of women with contracting backgrounds.
To hear their different stories and experiences within the sector was a real boost. Machinery is more automated now compared to even 20 years ago and so there isn't as much manual handling and physical strength required. I think in years gone by, that element might have precluded more women from working in the sector, but not anymore.
Of course, sometimes you can still struggle with hooking up a machine or a piece of equipment, but my experience is there's always a helping hand available. There's nothing to stop more women getting into the contracting sector.
What's your plan after finishing your degree?
My main interest is in tillage and crops. I completed the Advanced Crops and Machinery course in Kildalton Agricultural College two years ago and enjoyed it a lot. It was a course that thought me a huge amount about technical aspects of crops and was very hands on, which I like.
When I finish my course, I was thinking of maybe travelling to New Zealand or Australia and doing a few months' work out there with a contracting business to gain international experience and travel a bit.
In the long term, I'll always see myself helping out at home when I can, but I'd also like to have a job somewhere in the agronomy sector.
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