Contractors face labour shortages ahead of silage harvest – FCI

“Farm contractors across the country are facing significant challenges with regard to labour availability and managing labour costs.

“This is just one of a number of major issues that are impacting on the long-term viability of silage-making activities for many members of the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI),” National Chair Richard White has said.

“Skilled machinery operators are being drawn back into the construction sector and that is once again a huge challenge for us agricultural contractors who can only offer seasonal driving opportunities,” he added.

“Labour availability is just one of a series of major problems impacting on contractor cash-flow and longer-term viability,” he explained.

“Farmers are rarely aware of the real costs of running a modern contracting business, where the emphasis is on delivering an efficient service. The running costs for a farm contractor’s business don’t only involve labour costs; all of the costs have increased making managing cash-flow a real challenge for many contractors,” he said.

“If we don’t invest in reliable machinery we cannot provide a quality service – at a fair price and with sensible payment plans, which is what we all – as contractors – aspire to.”

A set of quality tyres for a 150hp tractor costs upwards of €8,000 and that’s only one part of our investment as contractors, in ensuring that we give a quality service.

He added: “Diesel cost increases are running at more than 12% year-on-year and these additional costs are also impacting on contractor profitability in 2017.

“Many contractors now have access to machine telematics systems to identify their true costs.

We now know that a high-output 10ac/hour mowing combination will burn almost 2L of diesel per acre, while combination balers are burning close to 2L of diesel per bale.

“Pumping slurry with umbilical pipe systems is power and fuel-hungry, using up to 20L/hour, all at a time when rates for work and payment dates are under pressure,” he added.

“Larger self-propelled harvesters are using upwards of 12L/ac, so even with these modern and efficient machines the fuel costs for silage making are significant and far greater than many farmers will be aware of.”

Image source: Shane Casey

He said this cost squeeze situation is coming at a time when farm contractors are not eligible to take advantage of significant grant support for the purchase of new machines, in the same way as many of their customers are.

“We have been denied grant support for the purchase of tillage and slurry spreading machines under the TAMS schemes and, especially, the recent tillage schemes. This is putting established contractors at a competitive disadvantage and is encouraging many of our long-standing customers to invest in machinery, some of which they don’t actually want nor need – and for which there is no economical or management sense for farmers to own,” concluded White.