Fleet profile: Galway contractor reveals his machinery ‘highs’ and ‘lows’

Maurice Gannon runs a busy farming and contracting operation at his base – close to Creggs on the Galway/Roscommon border.

His tillage enterprise stretches across 400ac of ground; Gannon also undertakes up to 1,000ac of grassland reseeding each year.

The main operations revolve around silage harvesting and slurry work, though Gannon does offer a “full range of agricultural contracting services”.

The family business tackles pit silage (over 2,500ac each year) and baled silage (typically up to 15,000 bales per year, depending on the season).

Gannon silage

Speaking to AgriLand this week, Gannon gave us an insight into the operation, focusing on the machinery fleet in particular.

How loyal are you to particular brands?

We run all Valtra tractors; we have 10 at the moment – so you could say that we do stick with one brand in the main. Years ago, we ran Deutz. They were OK at the time; some of those tractors were very good in fact. However, the local dealer was winding down at the time, so back-up and support were going to become an issue.

In 1999, I bought our first Valtra [Valmet] – a 140hp 8450 model. At the time, I needed to change and, in reality, I could’ve gone down any route; it could just as easily have been New Holland or John Deere.

The Valtra dealer came on the scene at the right time; so I bought a new one and haven’t looked back since. All of our tractors are now Valtras; the most recent ones are fourth-generation T Series models – a 161-reg T234 and a newer 171-reg T234. The older of the two already has 2,500 hours clocked up.

Gannon silage

Who is your preferred dealer?

We work with a lot of dealers, as we run quite a few different machines. For the tractors, we deal with Clarke Machinery in Ballyjamesduff; we have been dealing with them since 1999.

The forage harvester came from TFM – from the Templetuohy branch. They’ve since opened up a depot in Tuam, which is closer to us. Again, like Clarke Machinery, the service is very good.

Gannon silage

Pro Trailers & Machinery in Athlone is also an important dealer for us; they supplied our Krone and Amazone equipment.

What is the best tractor you’ve ever had?

It is probably the Valtra [Valmet] 8450 Mega that I bought in 1999. That tractor went on to do almost 25,000 hours of work. It was practically bullet-proof. We also had an 8750 that did a huge amount of work.

We moved on to the early-generation T Series models in 2004; the first was a T190. We were running four Valtra tractors at that stage. Those early models are the reason why we run all Valtras today.

Gannon silage

What is the worst tractor you’ve ever had?

People are surprised when I say this but it was a Zetor Crystal; I don’t think they’re bad tractors in general, but I certainly got a troublesome one.

I actually started off in business with a second-hand Crystal, which was a good tractor – so much so, in fact, that I decided to buy a brand new one – a 14145. Everything gave trouble on the new one – the engine, transmission, back axle and PTO; you name it.

I bought it to drive a double-chop [silage] harvester at the time, but it managed to do very little work.

What is your favourite piece of machinery?

Probably the umbilical slurry spreading systems; we have two of them.

We bought the first one five or six years ago; it was the best investment we ever made. It created extra work for the business and it got us into new areas. Nowadays, we travel up to 40 miles from our base with it.

We drive the pumps using 190hp tractors; they don’t need all of it but that’s just the way it works out. Our smallest tractor is 170hp, so all the tractors are fairly big.

The slurry is applied using a splash-plate on one system and a dribble-bar on the other, so we can work whichever way the customer wants. Once you’re set up on a farm, you can pump up to a maximum distance of about 1,500 or 1,600m.

Gannon silage

What is your least favourite piece of machinery?

Nothing really stands out, but I wasn’t a big fan of our Pottinger power harrows when we used to run those. They had a tendency to shear rotors off; it was difficult to get the back-up service then – but that was a long time ago.

What is your latest purchase?

A 6m-wide, folding Amazone power harrow. We only got it recently, so I can’t really comment on its performance yet. It’s shaping up well though; it cost €34,000 excluding VAT to buy.

How long do you keep tractors and machinery?

It depends on the tractor or machine and how much work it’s doing. We try to buy one new tractor every year at the moment. We’d usually push one of the existing tractors back to lighter work then, to make way for the new one. While that’s happening, an older model might be sold off or traded in.

Gannon silage

We have kept some tractors to very high hours – if they’re not giving trouble. Sometimes, it’s better the devil you know!

Do you buy new or second-hand?

Recent tractors that have come into the yard have been new. Some of the busiest machinery is also bought new; other machines are bought second-hand – such as the combines.

Do you buy genuine or spurious (generic) parts?

If we’re buying critical parts for the internals of a tractor, we would tend to go for genuine ones. But for something less critical – like pick-up tines for example – we consider all the options.

Gannon silage

Most costly machinery repair?

I’m not sure; nothing in particular jumps out. We did have a tractor stolen back in 2003, which could have been very costly – were it not for the fact that we were fully insured.

It was a Valtra [Valmet] 8950. We had bought her second-hand, but she was only two years old at the time. We only had it four weeks; it disappeared away from a job we were on and we never saw it again.

That tractor had a front PTO and front linkage; it also had front axle suspension. It was a beautiful machine and a great find; I wish we still had it.

Most useful machine?

The loader – without a doubt. We have a JCB 416S Farm Master. You couldn’t be without a loading shovel, having had one around the place. Apart from pushing up silage and loading dung, it’s very useful for other things too.

Gannon silage

There’s hardly a day that goes by that it doesn’t get used. Sometimes, you could do without a tractor for a day or two, but the loader is needed all the time.

Most useful item in the farm workshop?

Battery-powered impact guns [impact wrenches] and grinders are very handy – especially, for example, when you have to repair a mower out in the field. The grinder makes short work of cutting wire off a disc or a conditioner rotor.

A battery-powered impact gun is useful, for instance, for changing over connections on the umbilical pump; tools like those help to get you going again – quickly.

Any home modifications or changes to your set-up that stand out?

We built a couple of 5m-wide land levellers in our own workshop. We made them the way we wanted; it takes time but it can pay off for a simple, manageable implement like that.

What is your favourite machinery job?

There’s probably nothing more relaxing than cutting a nice crop of wheat or barley – in ideal conditions on a good, warm day.

We enjoy most of the work, but it’s good to swap over to new jobs as the seasons change. You’d be looking forward to the silage, for example, before it starts. But by the time the season is coming to an end, you’d nearly be getting fed up of it. The long hours can take a toll.

Gannon silage

What is your least favourite machinery job?

Sowing for people in the GLAS scheme; it’s usually done in tough conditions or on land that’s hard to work. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, as it’s creating work but the crops aren’t very productive.

What’s worse; they’re locked in to each plot for five years; that doesn’t encourage a good rotation of crops.

I don’t understand why the powers that be can’t come up with a policy that allows people to make more productive use of their farms, by supporting them to grow more useful crops on their better land and still look after the environment.

Any classics in the yard?

Not much; there is an old binder from the 1950s tucked away in a shed. We’ll get a chance to do something with it soon. We’ll get her out working again; I’m not sure we’ll be doing a full restoration though.

Thoughts for the future?

I’d like to think that there is a future is this business. I have three sons – all of whom have a keen interest and are involved in it. They are 18, 21 and 23 years-of-age.

They either have or are getting agri-related qualifications and I’m looking forward to seeing the business push on into the future.

Gannon silage

Machinery includes:

Tractors: Valtra T170, T180, 5 x T190, T202, 2 x T234

Loading shovel: JCB Farm Master 416S

Mowers: McHale Pro Glide B9000 (triple-unit), Kverneland front and rear combination, John Deere 1365, 2 x John Deere 530

Rakes: Krone and Kverneland twin-rotor (30ft) units

Tedder: Krone 6-rotor unit

Forage harvester: John Deere 7550

Baler: McHale Fusion 3 Plus

Trailers: 4 x Kane ‘Halfpipe’ (22ft; rear steering axle), 3 x Kane ‘Classic’ (20ft; rear steering axle), NC dump trailer

Slurry equipment: 2 x umbilical system (1 dribble-bar and 1 splash-plate applicator), 5 x 2,600-gallon Major tanker, 4,000-gallon Major (tandem-axle) tanker with disc-type injector, 2 x Cross agitator

Muck/dung spreaders: 2 x Keenan Orbital 12T (12t)

Ploughs: Kverneland 4-furrow reversible, Kverneland 6-furrow reversible (planned)

Cultivators and drills: Amazone one-pass system (3m power harrow and air/pneumatic drill), 2 x Amazone power harrow (3m), Amazone folding power harrow (6m), Kongskilde grubber (3m), Cousins folding cultivator/harrow (6m), 2 x land leveller (5m; home-built), Guttler grass seeder

Sprayer: Hardi Master (12m; 1,500L)

Fertiliser spreader: Amazone mounted unit (2t)

Combine harvesters: Deutz-Fahr 1610 (hydrostatic), 1630 (hydrostatic)

Truck: Scania R580 (tractor unit), artic tanker (6,000-gallon unit for hauling slurry)