Opinion

Contractors really need to sort their sector out

It turns out that contractors are now being actively pursued to sort out debt on kit that was purchased over 10 years ago.

I was truly shocked when I read this figure. In my own case, the bank is crippling me with charges the second I infringe my overdraft limit to even the smallest degree.

So for guys that have been able to juggle debt that has been hanging over their heads for such a long period of time, without the banks and other lenders pulling the plug, I say “good luck to all”.

The Farm and Forestry Contractors of Ireland (FCI) has issued a statement urging those of its members now facing the prospect of ‘distressed disposal sales’ to get all the independent financial advice they can access.

And this makes perfect sense. But even more distressing is the fact that significant numbers of contracting businesses have found themselves in such an indebted position.

I sense that the root cause of the problem is the fact that so many Irish farms are totally over-mechanised. In my opinion, only farmers cutting over 200ac of grass at any one time should be making their own silage.

Everyone else should be using a contractor. The cost of purchasing mowers, self-propelled harvesters, trailers and all the other items of equipment required to make silage cannot be justified on smaller farms.

I can understand fully why cereal growers and other tillage operators need their equipment. But the rest of agriculture should be more heavily reliant on contractors than is currently the case.

An average dairy farm in Ireland can function very well with a machinery bank comprising a single 100hp tractor with the implements available to feed silage and scrape up.

The case for a mixer wagon is separate again, as diet feeding is not provided as a service by contractors.

I would also argue that all slurry mixing work and spreading should be handled by contractors. The health and safety implications linked to the management of slurry are more than significant. So let the professionals get on with it, particularly where mixing is concerned.

Mind you, contractors must take a lot of the blame for getting themselves into financial bother.

It should be standard practice that an operator is paid in full as soon as a job is completed. A reasonable compromise would be half the payment made up front with the remainder sorted out 30 days after the job is completed.

Trying to get money from farmers six months, and more, after a job has been completed is a fool’s game. Not one Irish dairy farmer, for example, would wait for six months on a milk cheque. Why, then, should a different principle kick in where contracting is concerned?

Cash flow is king for every business. And agricultural contracting is no different in this regard.

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