Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland employ close to 10,000 people operating machines on farms
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 €5,666 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 1,100 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
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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:
Recognition of the role of the Farm & Forestry Contractor in Irish agricultural production
Registration of all Farm & Forestry Contractors with the support through the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027
Re-investment support for Farm & Forestry Contractors as part of the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027
Re-educational and training support for Farm & Forestry Contractors and their employees as part of the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027
FCI welcomes the new DAFM scientific slurry spreading extension guidelines
The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI), the national association representing Agricultural/Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland, has welcomed the new Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine’s (DAFM’s), new slurry spreading extension guidelines which are to be based on the Moorepark St. Gilles Grass Growth Model. These guidelines have the potential to allow for slurry spreading on farms at dates later than the new earlier closing deadlines of October 8, 2022, and October 1, 2023.
While the Association is aware that the bringing forward of the slurry spreading closed period by one week to October 8 this year, will further reduce the working year for Farm Contractors who provide slurry spreading services, the adoption of scientific criteria over calendar dates in assessing conditions for slurry spreading exemptions during the closed period, is welcome.
Over the past three years, FCI has campaigned for changes to the existing calendar-based closed system and has called for the adoption of a more scientific approach based on grass growth and weather factors, which have been proven to enhance the ability of nutrient uptake. “The adoption of the Moorepark St. Gilles Grass Growth Model to assess the ability of the grass to use the slurry nutrients based on actual growing conditions, coupled with weather forecasts, is a long awaited and welcome change in approach by DAFM,” said John Hughes, National Chair, Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland.
For slurry spreading to be allowed within the closed period using the Moorepark St. Gilles Grass Growth model which will give a measure sufficient grass growth for nutrient uptake and when no heavy rain is forecast. The Moorepark St. Gilles Grass Growth model system measures existing grass growth to include a nitrogen (N) component and a soil water component. The model is effective in grazing and cutting scenarios. Inputs include weather data, grazing management decisions and N fertiliser application. Outputs include daily grass growth, soil mineral N content, grass N uptake, grass N content and NO3− leaching.
The Association has also called for great emphasis for funding for slurry storage to allow the movement of more animal slurry for storage on tillage farms. “This would enhance use of slurry as a replacement fertilizer with additional organic matter benefits,” said John Hughes.
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
In 2021, FCI wrote to Minister McConalogue on
the issue as follows: “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.
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.
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
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
Manage Costs and Your Money at Silage 2022
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
KEEP SAFE - KEEP CONTRACTING
L-Plate & N-Plate Driver Questions & Answers for Tractor Drivers
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 2022 - Revised due to agri-diesel & machinery inflation
The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) has published its revised and updated FCI Contracting Charges Guide 2022 in order to reflect the huge increases in agri-diesel cost inflation, along with other significant input cost increases.
Against this inflationary background, the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) is satisfied that this revised averaged price guide continues to provide fair and reasonable guidance for both Farm & Forestry Contractors and their client farmers. However, it must be remembered this is only a guide.
FCI has been tracking agri-diesel prices with its members on a weekly basis since March 2022. This week’s (Wk 24) agri-diesel quotes are the highest so far this year and the highest agri-diesel prices on record, averaging at €1.50 per litre including VAT. This €0.25 per litre increase since the end of April, is a 20%+ increase in overall fuel costs since the start of the silage season and a 100% increase since January 2022.
This means that the daily cost of filling a 300-litre capacity diesel tank for a contractor’s tractor will have increased from €225 in January 2022 to €450 at the start of June. The agri-diesel cost per day to fill a self-propelled silage harvester with a 1,200-litre tank, has risen from €900 to €1,800 in both cases a 100% increase in fuel costs.
No other sector of the Irish economy has experienced such high levels of fuel cost inflation as have been experienced by Farm & Forestry Contractors. The benefits of the lowering of Excise Duty on agri-diesel have been insignificant for Farm & Forestry Contractors only to be obliterated within days by the Carbon Tax increases at the start of May 2022. The increases in the costs of agri-diesel have been more significant than road diesel cost increases, where the bus and road haulage sector has also benefited from fuel rebate subsidies.
The costs of agri-diesel inflation have doubled the annual fuel costs for the Farm & Forestry Contractor sector from €260 million to €525 million with these latest fuel price increases, based on an annual national consumption level of 350 million litres. This Agri-Diesel Cost Crisis now a national emergency not just for the Farm & Forestry Contractor sector, where it is threatening its very future. This Agri-Diesel Cost Crisis is also threatening the future of Ireland’s €14.5 billion agri-food exporting sector that depends on Farm & Forestry Contractors to provide the core farm mechanisation needs on 90% of Irish farms.
The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) is calling on the Minister for Finance to allow Farm & Forestry Contractors to avail of the Section 664A allowance, whereby the Carbon Tax component of agri-diesel can be provided as a tax credit to registered Farm & Forestry Contractors, in the same way that it is allowed for farmers. FCI is also calling for Ministerial intervention, at the highest level, for government-led investigation by the Consumer and Competition Protection Commission into the Agri-Diesel supply sector.
Irish farmers know that Farm & Forestry Contractor services are the most tax-efficient, economical, safe, and reliable choice for their farming businesses. “The dedicated land-based FCI Farm & Forestry contractor provides the most cost-effective choice for Irish farming and forestry businesses at a time of high input cost inflation,” said Michael Moroney, FCI CEO. “The value of FCI contractor services is now much appreciated by Irish farmers who have worked with their contractors in a partnership that supports the continued growth of many successful and sustainable farm businesses,” he added.
“It is now past time for the Government and the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM), to recognise the value of that partnership. It is time to create the pathways for Farm & Forestry Contractors to get access to DAFM Identifier Numbers so that their contribution can be truly recognised and supported in a structured way,” said Michael Moroney. “The Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine’s neglect and abject betrayal of the Farm & Forestry contractor sector by a process of ignoring its very existence, will ultimately undermine the output from Irish agriculture,” he said.
“The process of blindsiding the Farm & Forestry Contractor sector by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, coupled with current huge cost inflation that goes unrecognised as a crisis of a true national proportion, has now forced many contracting businesses to reconsider their futures,” he added. “The agri-food sector and Irish farming will pay a high price to replace the skills, financial investments and passion of many rural and family-based Farm & Forestry Contracting businesses, generations of whom have shown an appetite for ambitious investment in new technology, coupled with a dedication to hard work, for more a century as their contribution to support Irish farmers in a fast-evolving agri-food sector. Farmers clearly recognise that contribution, it is now time for the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine to recognise it too,” added Michael Moroney.
The updated FCI Contracting Charges Guide for 2022 seeks to reflect the huge input cost increases that Farm & Forestry Contractors are facing, and these are not alone restricted to fuel cost increases. The cost of a set of replacement filters for a modern Contractor tractor is now more than €800, while machinery parts prices have incurred inflation rates of more than 30%.
These revised FCI Contracting Charges Guide 2022 figures now also include VAT on all charges quoted as most Irish farmers are not registered for VAT. Quoting charges inclusive of VAT for non-VAT registered farmers is in line with customer requirements. Because of the local differences the actual guide charges may vary between regions, across soil types, distance travelled, size of contract undertaken, size and type of equipment used as well as the scale of the work done.
The average 5% increases in charges included in the initial FCI Contracting Charges Guide for 2022, published at the start of 2022, are no longer adequate to meet some of the more significant increases in costs of machinery, tyres, fuel and lubrication oils, insurance and labour costs that have been experienced by FCI members since the first quarter of 2022.
Michael Moroney, FCI Chief Executive Officer said, “FCI continues to advise all contractors to examine current costs of operation in particular by monitoring fuel consumption levels, to establish their individual charges for 2022. In our current high inflation economy, charge rates must be based on a realistic examination of the true cost of the operating tractors, and machinery, as well as the costs of running a progressive rural enterprise that provides skilled employment.”
“With the huge levels of cost inflation being experienced by Farm & Forestry Contractors in 2022, the most recent FCI silage cost analysis has shown that a modern contractor self-propelled silage fleet will require a minimum rate of €170 per acre, including VAT, just to cover the depreciation, labour and operating costs and the further Carbon Tax increase introduced in May 2022. Baling charges, when 30% plastic price increases and VAT are included, can now be as high as €20 per bale, depending on crop and farm conditions” he added.
In addition to the doubling of agri-diesel costs, the tripling in the cost of diesel exhaust fluid, commonly known as AdBlue, is an extra cost factor for 2022 as contractor owned tractors are significant consumers of these products. FCI estimates that the increased AdBlue costs alone will add more than €8 million to Contractor costs in 2022 based on the sector consumption ratios.