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Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland employ close to 10,000 people operating machines on farms

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FCI National Chair, John Hughes sowing with a strip-till drill near Borris, Co Carlow with Mount Leinster in the background. 
Photo supplied by Roger Jones

The average spend per Irish farm on Farm Contractor Services is €4,585 per annum. As there are 137,000 farmers in Ireland, the total annual spend on Farm Contracting Services by Irish farmers is €630 million.

There are 76,581 agricultural tractors registered for use on public roads in Ireland – 20% of them of 15,500 are in Farm & Forestry Contractor fleets

The 1,000 Farm & Forestry Contractors now listed on the FCI database, each work across an average of three Irish farms per day. This amounts to 3,000 farmer and Farm Contractor interactions each day or 18,000 farmer and over 500,000 interactions each working season, making the Farm & Forestry Contractor the greatest influencer in terms of farm efficiency

Supported by FBD Insurance

FCI Objectives

To represent agricultural contractors at the highest level with

politicians and the Department of Agriculture in Ireland and Europe.

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To promote good contractor / farmer relationships.

To promote the benefits of a good agricultural contracting service.

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To provide members with knowledge and courses to help them run their businesses.

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To provide a good working relationship between contractors 

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Latest News from FCI

Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 – Response Proposals from the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors

 

This is a summary of the response proposal to Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027, from the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI). At the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) we are also seeking parity of recognition as an agricultural industry stakeholder because of the hugely important role of our members in providing cost-effective, sustainable, and now clearly acknowledged as an essential service to Irish agriculture.

 

Many of our FCI members whether trading as limited companies or sole traders, represent up generations of rural-based family businesses who have dedicated their entire working lives to the provision of mechanised services to Irish farming from the threshing mills of the 1920’s to today’s high performance and GPS controlled, harvesters and tractors. 

 

Through this submission FCI is seeking the creation of a CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 for Irish agriculture that includes the following:

 

  1. Recognition of the role of the Farm & Forestry Contractor in Irish agricultural production

 

  1. Registration of all Farm & Forestry Contractors with the support through the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027

 

  1. Re-investment support for Farm & Forestry Contractors as part of the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027

 

  1. Re-educational and training support for Farm & Forestry Contractors and their employees as part of the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027

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FCI outlines Forestry Contractor Training Needs

Forestry Contractors are an integral part of the Forestry Community in Ireland and across Europe. While Forestry Contractor know their value to the Forest Community, others don’t always appreciate the fact that without Forestry Contractors there would be no Forest Industry. FCI members plant the trees, construct the roads and harvest the timber with their machines in the hands of skilled operators.

 

The current issues include the fact the age profile of those involved in the Forestry Contractor sector is too high with very few new entrants and the licence issues have resulted in significant numbers of experienced operators leaving the sector. It is also significant that the Forestry Contractor sector is very competitive and operates at low margins of profitability. The high cost of entry into the Forestry Contractor sector at a time of uncertain workflows is also impacting on entry levels into the sector.

 

The major issue now for Irish Forestry Contractors is the lack of experienced operators. A forest harvesting training program was developed in 2016 by the Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc), but contractors with a small number of machines considered that their productivity and profitability would be negatively affected by recruiting operators who just finished the course. There needs to be formal apprenticeships programmes for forwarder/harvester operators or other forestry operators. 

 

Machines have become more sophisticated and now use more technology. There needs to be on-going Knowledge Transfer Training for Forestry Contractors and Machine Operators in the sector about how to use the technology available more efficiently in the machines to optimize work outcomes. There needs to be on-going Knowledge Transfer Training for Forestry Contractors and Machine Operators on new machine software options and their use and application.

 

One of the other barriers to learning is perceived lack of time and cost for Forestry Contractors and their operatives. Costs are related to both the training itself and the loss of income through attendance and time spent on the learning activities in the sector that is very competitive and operates at low margins of profitability. Remoteness and distance are also limiting factors, which highlights the working hours and conditions of many contractors who work long hours in remote locations.

 

Rural locations with poor mobile and internet connection, can also restrict the individual’s ability to participate in any type of training. Awareness and existence of relevant training opportunities is a limiting factor as most contractors unaware of specific training designed for contractors by contractors, as their preferred medium for learning is peer-to-peer, in-person and onsite. There is no real professional incentive for operators to enhance their skillsets, no pay increase associated, no recognized accreditation factor. Both confidence in ability and no need to train anymore due to professional competency and age, such as learning and knowledge barriers, were the least relevant barriers to learning.

 

Forests and woodlands are places where people can enjoy the outdoors and they play an important role in public health and well-being. They are also workplace for Forestry Contractors and their teams using sophisticated machines. There needs to be training support for Forest Contractors and Machine Operators on the practical measures that need to be put in place by both managers and operational staff to control risks to public safety during harvesting operations.

 

Forestry Contractors are in the front line in terms of publicly visible forest activity with their machines, so it important that their work practices reflect the best environmental standards. That huge responsibility must be communicated directly to the machine operators in a formal training and Forestry Contractor registration programme that is supported by the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine.

 

Forestry Contractors and their teams are sometimes not perceived to deliver best practice in terms of their work practices, and this is often displayed on various social media sites and adds to the poor view of forestry by society in general. This can lead to a big information gap in terms of what is happening in the forest versus the perception of what is best practice. FCI believes that funding for Safety and Environmental Training of Forestry Contractor teams is important to make Forestry Contractors aware of the important role that they play and how their work practices impact on how a sustainable forest industry is perceived.

Contractors want technical not calendar solutions in Nitrates Action Programme 2021

The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) submission to the Nitrates Action programme 2021 includes strategies that have practical applications for change. The Association says in its submission that Farm & Forestry Contractors are practical people, and they will drive solutions to the water quality challenge as their machine strategies and performances are a critical part of the processes of modern Irish farming and forestry. The Association believes that it is now the time for clear acknowledgement of that role so that Farm & Forestry Contractors can take on their responsibilities and use their technology experience and investment willingness with the confidence knowing that their role is a part of a valued pathway towards an enhanced water environment for all of Ireland.

 

FCI has outlined the following responses to the NAP Second Stage Consultation proposals are based on extensive engagement with FCI members from across Ireland, as follows:

 

1.         Slurry Storage and Management

2.         Lack of slurry storage capacity on farms

3.         Slurry export and import to tillage farms

4.         Chemical Fertiliser Controls

5.         Sewage/Industrial Sludges

6.         Soiled Water Management

7.         Licencing system for slurry spreading

8.         Grant aids for Registered Farm

            Contractors to invest in new traceable

             spreading technology

9.         Water quality issues in Irish Forestry

10.       Investment in farmer and contractor

              education

11.       Support for Livestock Manure and

             Grass-based bio-digesters in Ireland

 

On the issue of Slurry Storage and Management, the FCI submission says that the fundamental issue is that the current Nitrates Directive Calendar Farming system of closed periods is simply not working; extending this system will not ensure that it can function any more satisfactorily. This system is too simplistic, and it is non-scientific, it has been proven not to be practical at farm level and it is now clearly not sustainable. “The Association believes that the NAP Second Stage Consultation proposals to extend the closed period for slurry spreading will not change that, they will in fact make the situation worse,” says FCI National Chair John Hughes.

 

The FCI National Chair added, “the fact that the current Nitrates Directive Calendar Farming system is not working has been confirmed by the deterioration in water quality as measured by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite the attempts at the closed period policing, involving the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) and local authorities and despite the hugely costly mis-directed investment in new Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) machinery systems funded by Government grant supports directly to farmers rather than to Farm Contractors. This has been clearly acknowledged in the Nitrates Action Programme, First Stage Consultation Review (4.4.5 LESS slurry spreading – “Contractors must be supported to purchase appropriate equipment.”),” he said.

 

FCI believes that bringing the closing date forward to September 30 followed by September 15 in 2023 will mean that all of this additional slurry will once again be attempted to be spread from January 15 irrespective of weather and ground conditions because slurry storage capacity on farms is currently not there and cannot be provided in this short timescale. Even larger volumes of slurry, from the extended storage period, will then be applied from January 15 across zones A, B & C leading to rainfall induced run-off into watercourse, streams and rivers.

 

This will also mean a huge demand for slurry spreading machine capacity from existing Farm Contractor providers at a time when skilled labour is less available. On many dairy farms, there is no labour available at that time of the calving season to operate the many grant aided LESS spreading machines, so this work will be carried out by Farm Contractors, creating a bottleneck of activity at a time when weather conditions are rarely ideal. Extending the closed period in this way only adds more environmental challenges.

 

The FCI National Chair added that what is lacking is a clear independent and technology-based, decision-making process to identify the best land spreading options based on measured information flows of air and soil temperatures, soil moisture levels, grass growing conditions, soil type information, predicted rainfall and slurry constituents as well as slurry volumes being spread, and field mapping locations linked to machine tracking. Each of these individual measurement indices are currently available but are they are not co-ordinated to ensure good decision making. “They are replaced by a simplistic calendar-based programme of work restriction that is not based on either science or technology but is one that that has resulted in a behaviour on farms that is not consistent with the water quality objectives,” he added.

 

FCI supports the evidence from the Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP) which indicates that supporting farmers to make better decisions regarding how they manage nutrient applications is likely to be the single area with the greatest potential to improve outcomes for water quality on Irish farms - delivering better profits for the farmer while reducing risk of nutrient loss to water.

 

Farm Contractors regularly react to urgent requests from their client farmers to alleviate slurry storage problems due to significant under investment in the necessary slurry storage capacity on many high output farms. This latter issue can also be one of animal welfare as the cattle can be standing in liquid slurry.

 

“This clearly confirms that there is an absence of criteria for good decision making in relation to slurry spreading on many Irish farms, in terms of slurry application systems, timing and application rates, and/or in-field application strategies by applying slurry manures or fertiliser too close to a water source,” says John Hughes. FCI is seeking to work with DAFM, the Teagasc farm advisory and research bodies to develop technology-based solution systems that combine the input from local weather conditions, soil type information (both in conjunction with Met Eireann & Teagasc Soil Survey), Pasture Base data from 176,000ha or 99,792 paddocks and machine type information with machine recording data about the slurry volumes and its constituents and source (cattle or pig slurry) in an integrated way that can be fully traceable.

 

The Association believes that the development of a new technology option would allow farmers and their Farm Contractors to make the correct decisions to manage the process of spreading of the slurry in a more scientific way based on the ability of the soils absorb the nutrients and reduce nutrient loss to the environment during slurry spreading. The entire process can be linked to a FCI Farm Contractor Registration process which is in preparation.

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Bulk Fertilizer Spreaders and DOE Tests

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) is continuing to carry out roadside checks on tractors during the summer months and FCI member tractors have been subjected to tests.

 

When an FCI member was recently stopped by the Gardai and the RSA during a roadside roadworthiness test, he was told that because he was doing ‘commercial’ work that his tractor was required to have a DOE test.

 

After representation to the RSA it was confirmed to FCI that ‘Fast tractors used by agricultural contractors, providing services to farmers, horticultural, forestry and fisheries undertakings, provided the road haulage element is not the principle objective of the service provided by the contractor, are not within the scope of the tractor testing regulations.’

 

It also added that these contractor operations include by way of example, slurry spreading, silage and crop harvesting as the haulage element is secondary to the principle activity.’

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Manage Costs and Your Money at Silage 2022

Information Reminder Notice to FCI Member Contractors for your Drivers

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In view of the current situation and the Government instructions regarding the fight against the Coronavirus, FCI is suggesting suggest some practical measures for all contractors and their teams to consider, with immediate effect.

 

At this time remember that the health of your teammates/machine operators and our costumers has to be your priority. Please give your team a clear set of instructions and if possible stick a copy of the short message (at the end of this notice) in a prominent place in the tractor cab.

Also, we ask that you to inform

your teams about the

following points:

 

- Disinfect the interior tractor cab at

the start and at the end of each day

with a disinfectant spray

 

- Disinfect the tractor cab door

handles at the start and at the end

of each day with a disinfectant spray

 

- Stick to social isolation and do not

allow others into the tractor cabin with you

 

- Bring enough food and drinks with you for a days work, and take two food breaks, deli/coffee shop stops are not a good idea and neither is entering a customer’s home for food

 

- Provide a box of disposable

plastic gloves in each tractor cab

for your operators and replace

each week

 

- Use disposable plastic gloves

to open and close farm gates

where possible

- Wear overalls and change them

for a fresh set each day or use

disposable overalls and dispose

each day

 

- No hand contact, no shaking

hands, it is possible to give the

instructions over the phone

 

- Maintenance of a minimum of two meter

safety distance

 

- Cough into your elbow

 

- If you have symptoms, call HSE Live

at 1850 24 1850

 

Please follow the HSE Guidelines at all times

in your daily activities. We want to thank our

machine drivers for their understanding and

trust, we must all work together to protect

ourselves, our teams, our customers and

our business and the business of Irish

farming.

 

TRACTOR CAB NOTICE FOR ALL CONTRACTORS

- Disinfect the interior tractor cab twice a day

- Disinfect the tractor cab door handles twice a day

- No entry for others into the tractor cab with you

- Use disposable plastic gloves to open and close farm gates

- No hand contact, no shaking hands

- If in doubt check instructions over the phone

- Keep a minimum of two meter safety distance

- Cough into your elbow

- Change overalls for a fresh one each day or use disposable overalls

- Bring enough food and drinks with you to last a long day and take rest periods where you get out of the cab for exercise and fresh air at least twice a day

KEEP SAFE - KEEP CONTRACTING

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Many Farm Contractors are reviewing their activities following an expensive 2020 season for those contractors who make pit silage for their client farmers. Here is some useful advice for running a successful Agri contractor business. 


Know the costs involved in your running business (labour, fuel, time spent carrying out repairs and the cost of financing your machinery). Any basic costing analysis will show that a 100hp tractor is costing you, the contractor, €50/hour before you put a machine or trailer behind. 

Properly cost your silage making operation & charge accordingly, not for reasons of cash flow, for a profit to allow to reinvest in the best Machinery for your customers future needs.


Send out invoices quickly and chase for payment - it’s your money & extended credit costs your business dearly. Add interest to overdue accounts not paid after 30 days from invoicing.

Join the FCI for more

business advice

Email: info@farmcontractors.ie

KEEP SAFE - KEEP CONTRACTING

L-Plate & N-Plate Driver Questions & Answers for Tractor Drivers

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Question 1: Is the driver of a tractor with a W Learner Permit or a W and B Provisional Licence, required to have a qualified driver in the tractor cab with them at all times when driving on the public road, if there is a second (instructor) seat fitted to the tractor cab?

Answer 1: No, the driver who holds a W Learner Permit shall not carry a passenger in or on such a vehicle unless the vehicle is constructed or adapted to carry a passenger (has a second seat) and that such a passenger already holds a full drivers licence, B or W category, otherwise NO PASSENGERS by LAW!

Question 2: If hold a ‘W’ licence Learner Permit are you required to display an L plate when driving a tractor and trailer?

Answer 2: You are NOT required to display L plates if you hold a Learner Permit in Category W, they are required for a range of other licence categories.

Question 3: If you have held a ‘W’ licence for a number of years and seek a provisional ‘B’ licence why should you have to display an L plate when driving a tractor and or trailer, if you already hold and have held for more than a year a full ‘W’ licence?

Answer 3: You are not required to display L plates if you hold a Learner Permit in Category W, they are required for a range of other licence categories.

Question 4: If you already hold a W and B licence and you are driving a tractor with a trailer/implement attached that is displaying an L or N plate from a previous driver, are you considered to be breaking the law for displaying either of these signs? If so what is the fine for such activities?

Answer 4: You are NOT breaking the law and there is no fines relating to such activities.

FCI Contractor Charges Guide 2021

The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) is currently preparing its FCI Contracting Charges Guide for 2021. At FCI we are satisfied that this averaged price guide will act as a reasonable guide for both contractors and farmers. However, it must be remembered this is only a guide.

These figures are produced on an annual basis and are compiled by collating an average figure for each operation from a panel of FCI Contractor Members from across Ireland. This year sees contractors quoting a 5% increase in charges, rounded off in order to cope with the increases in costs of machinery and higher labour costs since the start of 2021.

Because of the local differences the actual prices quoted in the FCI Contractor Charges Guide may vary considerably between regions, across soil types, distance travelled, size of contract undertaken, size and type of equipment used as well as the amount of product spread. There are some consistencies in terms of operating costs which transcend all regions, these include the machinery depreciation costs and the finance costs as well as the machinery purchase costs. 

The FCI is also aware that some contractors are now making individual arrangements with their customers regarding diesel (eg separate fuel surcharge, fuel used on-farm etc). The prices below do not reflect this as diesel prices are variable throughout the season. Such individual agreements may make a significant difference to contracting charges.

Agricultural contractors offer a wide range of machinery services to their customers and this is why they have been proven to be the best and economical choice for many Irish farming businesses. “FCI farm contractors have shown the ability to offer the best service to their customers, with skilled operators and modern machinery. While on occasion the dedicated land-based contractor may not always be the cheapest option, an amateur may end up costing your business more in the long run,” said Michael Moroney.

 “FCI contractors provide their customers with a professional, prompt and efficient service, with the latest equipment, that’s properly maintained and with skilled operators. They are tax compliant, hold the correct contractor insurance along with health and safety certificates to protect you and your farm business. The price and value of this service is being increasingly appreciated by many farmers as they work with their contractors to become partners in the planned future growth of many successful farm businesses,” he added.

To Download the FCI Contractor Price Guide 2021 Click Here

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