Opinion

Ireland needs a vibrant farm contracting sector

The need for a professional contracting sector within Irish agriculture has never been greater.

Only in this way will the real benefits of the technology breakthroughs being delivered by various machinery manufacturers be brought to bear for the benefit of the farming industry as a whole in a timely manner.

So, what do I mean by this? Let me provide a quick example.

In my opinion, the ground-breaking impact of Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies has passed Irish agriculture by, due to the fact that we do not have a sustainable farm contracting sector.  

Some might argue that the use of GPS is, actually, a step too far for the farming sector in this country. Obviously, I wouldn’t agree.

However, the option of using the next door neighbour, who has just bought a new tractor and a few ancillary machinery items, comes with one or two pretty big health warnings.

In the first instance, that person will only come to you once he has spread his own slurry or made his own silage.

And then is the very sensitive issue of insurance cover. As we all know, all farm operations come with an inherently high health and safety warning. And if the next door neighbour has an accident while working ‘off site’, who does he come to when it comes to sorting out the vexed issue of compensation?

I have long held the view that too many Irish farmers are overly fixated with owning machinery and bragging about all of this to their neighbours.

The alternative to this approach is to divest oneself of all those machinery items that come with a very high price ticket and get into bed with a contractor.

Obviously, it goes without question that the business concerned must be capable of doing the allotted tasks to an exemplary standard.

Taking such an approach would require contractors to be fully licensed and a professional business established, commensurate with this development.

In such circumstances, contractors’ rates would be independently assessed on an annual basis with a clear focus placed on how the best possible service can be supplied to farmer-clients in terms that represent optimal value-for-money.

One has only to look at how contractors go about their business in the rest of the European Union, in order to gauge how badly we make use of this potential resource in Ireland.  

Across in countries like France and Germany contractors are brought on board as ‘de facto’ consultants. As a consequence, they are involved in every aspect of clients’ farming operations.

This includes all facets of crop establishment, management and harvesting. Fixed dates are set for all activities. This would include the spreading of slurry plus the ensiling of grass and other crops.

By taking this strategic approach, a strong bond of trust is developed between the farmer and the contractor. And this is the situation that we need to arrive at here in Ireland.