Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Why the Cotter name has been synonymous with farm contracting in West Waterford for over 50 years


Cotters harvesting Maize in 2017
Cotters harvesting Maize in 2017
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

It was 51 years ago in 1966 when John Cotter started out contracting in west Waterford. The Cappoquin man is now a sprightly 73 and still plays a hands-on role in the family-run business, Cotter Agri Contractors Ltd.

His son, Kieran Cotter, is now managing the business which employs up to 10 staff during peak season. Its main services are silage and maize harvesting, slurry spreading and contract maize and fodder beet growing.

The maize harvest in the south east was just starting when I met the Cotter team. Their 2015-registered Claas 860 harvester with eight-row header was busy gobbling up a 50-acre field of maize on the Dungarvan to Cappoquin road.

Powered by a Mercedez-Benz 450hp engine, the harvester was well up to the job.

Trailer loads of maize were being ably drawn away by the Cotter fleet of New Holland tractors - with the exception of one John Deere which is subcontracted in from a family friend to help out on busy jobs with heavy yields.

The Cotters harvest around 400 acres of maize annually with the vast majority grown under plastic.

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Kieran Cotter has been involved in agricultural contracting since he was a teenager. "I remember helping Dad out from a very young age - you want to be useful and help out so you learn to drive a tractor in the fields in your early teens and then later on the road.

"I grew up surrounded by all things contracting so that probably gave me the interest to make a career out of it."

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A big source of pride to the Cotters is that many of their original customers have stuck with them through the years, generation after generation. Kieran feels this is testament to the level of service the outfit offers and the modern fleet it runs.

"We like to keep the machinery in good shape," he says. "If you look at the harvester and the tractors it's easy to see they are all kept well.

"We do a lot of our own maintenance in house. Another important thing for me is that our staff tend to be with us long term, which means they look after the machinery and take an interest in the business. For example we have one man working with us for 37 years now, Michael Beston, and he's as reliable as ever.

"My cousin David is on the harvester most of the time and the tractor drivers would also be with us for 15 years in some cases."

Kieran Cotter
Kieran Cotter

As well as running a contracting business, the Cotters have also been growing maize for years now and have over 250 acres of land leased around the Cappoquin area.

As with many operators around this area, they used to be involved in the sugar beet industry but when that ceased over 10 years ago, fodder beet and maize came to the fore again.

"We have a great relationship with our customers here and I have to say that goes back to the work that my father did for them from day one," says Kieran.

"It was easy for me to step in because my father had done the work of building up the business and getting a solid fleet of machinery in. I really think nowadays it would be next to impossible for a fella to start up an agri contracting business from scratch without any of those foundations in place.

The initial capital layout of buying a new fleet combined with the risk of not having enough customers - it's very difficult if you don't have one of those two already somewhat established."

Kieran admits that Cotter Agri Contracting charge at the upper end of the scale, but says this is necessary for any business that wants to do things by the book.

"We pay all our taxes and insurance, we pay our staff well, we give the lads proper breaks and provide meals. We service the machines regularly, and pay an annual diesel bill of €100k - all that means we have to charge a fair price for the job we do. I sleep well at night.

"For maize and silage harvesting we charge €130/acre. We have lost a job or two in the past when a rival contractor comes in and undercuts us," says Kieran.

" I don't like when it happens but that's life and it's part of the business unfortunately.

"If a rival undercuts us by a lot I know there's something dodgy going on. You live by your reputation; I'm dealing with lads that are sons of the lads that my father used to do work for, so that tells its own story."

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