Cutting no corners - Tipp contractors proving why diversification is essential to stay in the game for the long haul


Taking a break from baling silage are Jerry Ryan, Clogheen, Jim and Thomas Moloney Directors of Moloney Agri, and Stephen Ryan, Dunmanway, Cork.
Taking a break from baling silage are Jerry Ryan, Clogheen, Jim and Thomas Moloney Directors of Moloney Agri, and Stephen Ryan, Dunmanway, Cork.
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

It sums up the bizarre nature of silage season 2018 when many contractors are still working away at silage. Perhaps even more strangely, reports suggest third cut yields are easily surpassing second cut in many parts of the country.

I recently visited Moloney Agri, a family-run contracting outfit based in Clogheen, Co Tipperary. The business is an agricultural contracting and tree care company formed over 45 years ago by founder and present owner Jim Moloney. Jim and his son Thomas are the current company directors.

The main services provided by the team include baling and wrapping silage, slurry spreading, baling straw and small square bales of hay, saw and flail hedge cutting and fertiliser spreading using GPS guidance systems. There is also the recent addition of another service using a tracked excavator doing general farm maintenance. All of this is done while running a small dry stock herd on the home farm in Clogheen.

The spread of customers Moloney Agri has sums up the level of diversification into various areas the company has developed in the last 20 years. For example, the tree surgery and hedge cutting care side of the business has customers of all types, ranging from the landowner with a few acres to contracts with large semi state companies such as Irish Rail. Offering a range of services is important to the Tipp team, who see it as a way of spreading their workload out during the year.

The Lely RPC 235 combi baler is now in its fourth season. New Holland is the tractor brand of choice for Thomas Maloney, with 12 tractors in the fleet.
The Lely RPC 235 combi baler is now in its fourth season. New Holland is the tractor brand of choice for Thomas Maloney, with 12 tractors in the fleet.

When I visited, the Moloneys were busy finishing their own second cut silage. Their farm is found near the village of Clogheen and is overlooked by the picturesque Knockmealdown Mountains. Investment in new machinery is accepted by this outfit as being crucial for maintaining performance and customer confidence. That said, the benefits and cost of each new machine purchase are carefully considered before a decision is made; if a cleaner or cheaper second-hand model will suffice rather than a brand new machine, then so be it.

The team runs an impressive fleet of 12 New Holland tractors, with a big focus on buying good value tractors whether it be good clean second-hand or new models. Eight of the tractors were purchased new. They do the servicing in-house as much as possible. Tractors are generally not replaced for a minimum of ten years or longer.

On the silage front the Moloney team run two round balers, both Lely-Welger models, one of which is an RPC 245 Tornado combined baler-wrapper machine. The combi baler has been performing very well and is now in its fourth season. It was bought new from William Carroll of Cashel. The combination baler is usually hitched up to the 2009-registered New Holland T6080 tractor, another fresh-looking tractor for its age.

The other baler is a standalone Lely Welger 245 baler but it is often hooked up with an in-line HS2000 McHale wrapper with steering axle bought in 2003. A 2000-registered TM125 is the tractor of choice for this line up.

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Favourite machine

Thomas Moloney credits the McHale HS2000 wrapper as being his favourite machine in the whole set up due to its reliability and longevity. Having a standalone baler offers the team flexibility for baling straw but also gives the option of added silage baling capacity in buy times of the season.

The team are open to switching baler brands again in the future, having previously run a McHale Fusion baler wrapper combination and recently had a demonstration model Kverneland Fast Bale baler. They keep an eye on the Farming Independent to see the latest developments in the machinery market. Balers are usually changed after six seasons and get a comprehensive overhaul and service every three seasons.

Mowing is looked after with a Pottinger ProGlide front mower and Alpha Motion rear mower combination that can knock up to 15 acres an hour in the right conditions. The front mower was bought new this year from Agriquip in Kilkenny and has made a good difference to mowing output.

A powerful and fresh looking 2016-registered New Holland T7185 is usually charged with mowing duties and is well up to the job, offering 185hp. There is no plan to invest in a butterfly mower combination at present as the existing setup is handling demand well.

Mowing is looked after with a Pottinger ProGlide front mower and Alpha Motion rear mower combination.
Mowing is looked after with a Pottinger ProGlide front mower and Alpha Motion rear mower combination.

The Moloneys like to support local machinery manufacturers when possible. They have just bought a new 2,500 gallon Abbey Machinery 7.5m Tri App slurry tanker from Abbey Retail in Nenagh. The Tri-App applicator is designed to apply slurry to the soil surface, thereby maximising available nitrogen and lowering ammonia emissions. Delivery of this machine is still pending so it will likely get its first true test in spring 2019.

Thomas Moloney explains the reason for the new addition: "We noticed that lot of farmers have invested in bigger storage tanks but have not updated their slurry tankers because they feel the contractor can spread and cover the ground faster."

Some of the New Holland tractors have been specially modified with railroad gear to accommodate tree work done for Irish Rail. Each tractor is fitted with a rail bogey similar to what you might see under a train. This allows the tractor to travel a railroad and cut hedges to ensure trains can pass smoothly. Not surprisingly, the specialised nature of this work means it can usually only be carried out at night time when trains aren't running. This sees the team working a lot of nights, often only starting at close to midnight, and tractors have also been fitted with extra lights. All drivers have to undergo a lot of training before they can do this specialised work, with some drivers having to do up to ten different training courses. The insurance costs are quite high and the machines have to be independently certified by a company in England.

The team own and run three McConnel flail hedge cutters and three Moffet saws as part of their tree and hedge cutting wing of the business. According to Thomas, last year a lot of farmers put off hedge cutting as ground got quite soft in the winter. As a consequence, there is a lot of work to get through this autumn with some customers having two years of woody growth to manage in hedge rows.

For tree surgery work, the team use an imposing looking heavy-duty tree shears they bought from an Austrian company. For these jobs the hydraulically driven shears is attached to the team's 18 tonne JCB excavator and is capable of handling tree stumps up to 16 inches in diameter.

Moloneys’ line-up

* 12 New Holland Tractors

* 3 Moffet saw hedgecutters

* 3 McConnel flail hedgecutters

* Various grassland equipment including mowers, balers, rakes, tedders and fertiliser spreaders

* Various slurry equipment including agitators, slurry tanks and trailing shoe equipment

* Various tree surgery equipment including woodchippers

* JCB excavator with various attachments such as mulcher heads and tree shears

* Dumptrailers and Lowloader

Thomas Moloney on...

Advice for young contractors

In terms of advice for budding young contractors of the future, Thomas Moloney thinks you could do a lot worse than spend some time abroad working with an established, reputable contractor to see how the game is played. He did it himself a few years ago, working with the Osters and Voss team in Germany, which is one of the biggest contracting outfits in Europe.

“The experience allowed me to bring home some ideas for our own operation; things like paying close attention to diesel, service and maintenance costs. That allows you to have the figures necessary to price a job accurately enough to make a profit but fairly enough to keep the customer happy.”

Don’t neglect the books

A lot of people think when they see a machine out working in the field that it is paying for itself, but the reality can be quite different. Thomas has learned that spending a day in the office can be as beneficial as a day in the field. Working out running costs, pricing jobs to make a fair profit and completing invoices for works done are essential book-keeping skills for any contractor.

A job diary is kept recording all work done on a daily basis, and this is then transferred to invoices on a client or job basis depending on the client’s requirements. “Racing around always trying to be out in the field isn’t much use if you aren’t actually keeping on top of the paperwork,” Thomas says.

“Sometimes a day spent in the office each week can be more profitable than two in the field.”

Getting paid for work

As farmers come under pressure with winter feed shortages, will it be difficult for contractors to get paid this winter?

“I don’t think it will in our particular situation but circumstances can vary,” says Thomas. “Most of our customers have been with us long term and we have a very good relationship with them. We don’t go looking for a lot of new work and we tend to know our customers very well. To run a business you have to charge a fair price for a fair job, our customers know that.”

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