Trade focus: What doesn’t a Wexford ‘breaker’ know about these tractors?

The image of vehicle breakers has not always been the most glamorous or environmentally friendly. Visions of grease-covered and indifferent individuals wandering amongst piles of rusting cars, trucks and tractors – with an angry dog snarling away in the background – come to mind, whenever the subject is mentioned.

However, there is a new breed of salvage businesses coming to the fore. Ned Murphy Tractors of Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, epitomises all that is good and modern about this trade – in these more enlightened times.

There are two sides to the firm now run by the Murphy family. The first is a continuation of Ned’s tractor repair business, which he started in 1999 after having served his apprenticeship and gained several years’ experience with the local Massey Ferguson dealer.

Left-to-right: Keith Murphy, Ned Murphy, Ian Murphy and Noel Atkinson

The second is the dismantling of Massey Ferguson tractors and the salvaging of the still-functioning components for re-use in working machines, both here in Ireland and abroad.

The idea to start dismantling tractors came after Ned visited one of his suppliers in the Netherlands, which runs a large-scale salvage yard. “He actually encouraged me to set up a similar operation back here,” said Ned.

That was in 2013 and, as a firm, it now does more business with him than ever before – so it has worked out well for both.

In between these two stools there is a third string to the bow, which takes in damaged tractors and puts them back into good working order – using the ample skills and parts they now have at their disposal.

At the time of Agriland’s visit, they were bidding on an accident-damaged machine in the UK, which would require a new engine and other smaller items to see it fully fit for service again. They have the engine and parts in stock and, with several mechanics on the team, the job can likely be done swiftly.

In just this one example there are several clues as to why the businesses is growing at a rapid rate; the key word is professionalism. There are no oily puddles and half ripped-apart tractors cluttering the yard.

Instead, they have a system which takes in the tractor and reduces it to its components in just two days.

Keith Murphy, a qualified quantity surveyor by trade who has returned home to help manage the enterprise, explains that the first step is the removal and safe disposal of all the fluids.

“The local council inspects us regularly and we have to fill in annual returns of all the materials that pass through,” he noted. He also points out that, far from being officious and troublesome, the council fully supports the efforts being made to handle the tractors and waste in a responsible manner.

“They keep saying that they wish everybody was like us,” he noted proudly.

Another point to note is the use of the internet in buying stock. Around 90% of the tractors come from the UK and the majority of these are bought online.

They only purchase Massey Fergusons from the 300 series onwards and have contacts in the UK who will advise of them of suitable machines becoming available on web-based auctions.

Indeed, the whole business has grown through the use of the web; 80% of their parts are exported and most are bought through people finding them via their website and other online channels.

The warm embrace of digital technology doesn’t stop with the advantages of the internet. Tractor electronics hold no fear for them either, and they don’t see the much-foretold degradation of digital systems actually being realised in the older tractors they handle.

“Farmers should not be afraid of electronics,” urged Keith.

Once a tractor has been unloaded and drained of all fluids the job of dismantling can begin in earnest. As the parts come off the tractor they are marked with their part number and taken just a couple of hundred metres up to their new storage facility, which comprises a large warehouse decked out with racking.

The components are taken to the appropriate sections and stored on pallets until required. There is, as yet, no central computerised parts system; to go down that route is an enormous challenge that can very easily go wrong.

“We are very likely to have the part you want and we know where it will be in the warehouse,” explained Ned.

We also aim to be half the price of new. If we haven’t got it, we’ll get it in and still keep the price down.

The side of the business is growing steadily and it is here that the firm is putting a great deal of effort. Yet the company has further plans to diversify and expand the business; Ned points out: “We have looked at breaking other makes but have decided not to for now.”

This leaves the question: What next? “Farm salvageables; we buy in damaged machines that farmers themselves can repair – using parts that we will also be able to provide,” he suggested. It’s an interesting idea that, once again, demonstrates forward thinking.

Other plans for the near future include trying to source more machines from within Ireland. They would certainly like to, but “can’t get in with the insurance assessors.”

Steps are being taken to address this; moves are also being undertaken to solve the problem of finding an apprentice mechanic. Taking tractors apart is not as simple as it may seem and employing local lads, who are not really drawn to the job, has proven a frustrating experience.

“We’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work,” said Keith. “It’s a question of finding somebody with the right aptitude and someone who has an interest in machinery”.

If anybody reading this thinks they fit the bill, then Murphys would be keen to hear from them.

Ned Murphy had never really envisaged seeing his small business of fixing tractors, out of the back of a van, turning into the modern, far-sighted company (serving customers overseas) that it is now.

To a great extent, the success has been due to the next generation returning to the fold and taking it forward – using their managerial and mechanical skills to build upon a solid family foundation. It’s encouraging to see such enterprise flourishing in rural Ireland.