It is often the case that a passion for the trade is what gives a business its energy and drives it forward, and there is no doubt that Pat Hughes is a dynamo of enthusiasm when it comes to tractors and contracting.

Pat’s contracting business is based at Elton, Co. Limerick, where he not only runs a fleet of machines, but also manufactures dribble bars for slurry spreading, although that takes a back seat at this time of year.

Golden oldies

Being very much a ‘hands-on’ mechanic, Pat prefers to stick with machines he knows how to fix should problems occur.

To that end, his fleet could hardly be described as the most up to date, but it all works and major holdups through breakdowns are rare.

John Deere self propelled harvester
The JD 6850 is the mainstay of the operation and runs as sweetly as ever

The flagship of the fleet is a John Deere 6850 self-propelled forage harvester, now in its 22nd year, which is still running faultlessly and is kept so by Pat himself.

Its 450hp may be considered a little old hat by some, and indeed it hardly compares with a monster of 1,150hp, yet when worked in conjunction with a pair of of loader wagons, the work rate of the whole outfit will match many other fleets headed by a much larger harvester.

Chop length choice

Running the two types of machine also gives his customers a choice of chop lengths The self propelled harvester giving a finer chop and the wagons leaving it longer for those who want to ease problems with rumen upsets.

Forage wagon harvester chop length
There are two Strautman forage wagons on the fleet which are considered to be as robust and reliable as any other

Often, farmers are quite happy to have a mix of the two, just so long as they are distributed evenly throughout the clamp.

Using two wagons powered by 200hp tractors plus the forage harvester, nominally matches the output of an 850hp harvester and Pat is able to clear fields just as quickly as any other contractor who is using a single harvester of that power rating.

A good season so far

To date, his season has been kind to machinery with firm going underfoot, and reasonably dry conditions throughout, no hold ups or great delays were encountered.

Loader clamp chop length
Back at the clamp a New Holland W170B takes care of the loader work

The crops have been heavy though, and he has seen little let-up in the use of fertiliser, certainly not on the dairy farms which are carrying on applying it despite the steep ramp up of price.

Dairy farmers are still making money at the moment he believes, and he has found that this willingness to spend what it takes to get the job done, extends to the price of diesel with not one customer quibbling over his revised charges.

Pat hughes forage harvester
Pat Hughes considers it vital that increases in cost are passed on to the farmer

He does, however, have a dire warning for his fellow contractors who may not be passing on these extra costs:

“Those that aren’t putting their prices up, but have stopped paying the Revenue VAT, or other bills instead, are going to be in trouble when they get their tax bill at the end of the year; they won’t be closing themselves down, it will be the Revenue doing it.”

Busman’s holiday

When Pat is not actually cutting grass as a job, he is doing it as a hobby. The evening Agriland called, he was out field testing a trailed precision chop harvester which dated from the same period as the JD 6850.

Taarup forage harvester Pat hughes
20 years old and still in excellent condition, the Taarup trailed harvester is ideally matched to the Ford 8730

The Taarup 10X is in excellent condition and it was with a similar model that he started off all those years ago.

He was able to buy back the original machine from its owner, but found that it had been used heavily and there would be a good deal of work involved to get it working properly again.

Taarup trailed harvester pat hughes
With 3 swathes raked into one, the throat of the harvester was at full capacity, but it was not phased, nor was the tractor

He therefore pounced on this one when it became available and when matched to a Ford 8730 of 155hp, it coped with a 30ft swath as happily as it would with grass from a 20ft rake, which it would have originally been designed to deal with as a maximum.

Huge advance

As awe inspiring as the combination was, it was still a lot slower than the self-propelled unit and to see them work together in the same field demonstrated just how big a leap forward the dedicated machines were when they arrived on the scene in the 1980s.

Taarup forage harvester Pat Hughes
Even though both harvesters are from the early 2000s, the self-propelled far outperforms the trailed

Yet, it is not just the engines that have gotten bigger, trailers have as well, and the chute is not long enough to reach over the sides of most of those on the fleet, so it is unlikely ever to be pressed into service as a back-up.

Pat will be taking the Ford and Taarup along to the Araglin silage day to be held this Saturday, June 18 in Co. Tipperary, where it can be seen working.