Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

'My big idea? Modular grain stores... but ideas can be fragile things'

My week: Tom Bergin

Tom Bergin with his sons Marc and Kieran, with Prince the dog, at Castlemarket, Attanagh, Co. Kilkenny. Photo: Alf Harvey/
Tom Bergin with his sons Marc and Kieran, with Prince the dog, at Castlemarket, Attanagh, Co. Kilkenny. Photo: Alf Harvey/
Tom Bergin and his sons Marc and Kieran with their portable Bruiser 1250 grain roller. Photo: Alf Harvey.

Ken Whelan

Finding a grain store which is bird-proof, weather-proof and Department of Agriculture-proof is the current preoccupation of Tom Bergin, a grain processor and dairy farmer from Castlemarket, Attanagh on the Laois-Kilkenny border, just outside Durrow.

"I have been talking to various companies about providing a modular grain store - about 30ft square - which can be assembled on farm and can store up to 100 tonnes of dry rolled grain," Tom says. "Sometimes the grain-storage facilities on a farm are not what they could be and I think this modular storage idea could be a solution.

"I have been thinking about it for the past two years but an idea in your head is a fragile thing and when it's in your head it is in a dangerous place. But we have done the research on assembling the store and on prices and we are ready to go," he explains.

Tom has been building up his grain processing operation - 'Mobyroll' - since 2003, when he decided to get to know the business following a fodder shortage in the region at the time.

With the help of the Agri-King company, he got up to speed on crimping and two years later went into dry rolling.

He now has over 100 clients on his books in Laois, Tipperary and Kilkenny during the grain-processing season and he dry rolls in batches ranging from 40 to 300 tonnes and ensures that the moisture/additives ratios are balanced. He is currently dry rolling between 4,500 and 5,000 tonnes of grain annually.

He also does some milling work for Chancellor's Mills, run by the Daltons in Kilkenny, and AbbeyGold in Abbeyleix.

While he initially got started in the business after experiencing a feed shortage on his own farm, it now accounts for about half of his farming enterprise. And if the modular grain storage idea takes off, that percentage will go higher.

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Balancing the grain processing and dairy enterprise requires a shuffling of the work on his home farm of "70 acres of good land", with 30 additional acres rented.

Tom uses contractors to do all the seasonal work on the farm, from sowing (18 acres of corn and nine acres of maize for farm use), to silage making. He also has a reliable man, John Fitz, to work the dairy when he is away on grain processing duties.

Tom's 40-strong dairy herd - "British Friesians pushing Holstein" to use Tom's words - produces 55,000 litres of milk annually for Glanbia.

When I interrupt our chat to ask Tom for his views on the current milk prices, he answers: "Hold on a second until I park the tractor."

He then just says resignedly: "Bad, bad, bad - ah sure you can write it yourself".

The 47-year-old is married to Julie, an accountant, and they have four school-going children - Michael (15), Sophia (13), Marc (9) and Kieran (7), with the two youngest showing a serious interest in all that is happening on the farm.

When Tom is not rolling grain or milking cows, he can be found playing at local music sessions. He is an accomplished musician - he plays the guitar, double bass and mouth organ - and his "popular music set" of Neil Young, Bob Dylan and David Bowie numbers can be sampled at sessions in local taverns, not least the Wheel Inn.

He caught the strumming bug when playing the double bass in his local school orchestra to a level which won at Feis Ceoil on two occasions and he even does a little composing himself these days, though he modestly describes his efforts as "composed, not published".

However, what is sure to be published over the next few years is his "fragile idea in a dangerous place" - Tom's modular grain store idea.

Indo Farming