The west of Ireland has long been associated with a strong agricultural industry. There are multi-nationals dotted throughout Connaught. The region is also noted for its small-holdings and stone walls.
However, the west has also a long history with its contractors that have thrived throughout the years, despite the ups and downs in the sector that is currently being felt throughout the country.
A & JJ Walsh Agri Contractors are one such company. Andy Walsh set up his contracting business over sixty years ago and his son, John Joe followed suit, making up the second of their three-generation business.
Based in Kilmaine, Co. Mayo, John Joe grew up on his family’s farm where they reared sucklers and had a dairy business. They eventually moved away from the dairy, opting for tillage and sucklers alone, which is what they still do on the farm today.
Andy started contracting in conjunction with the farm as a young man and he always kept a loyal customer base. Eventually, the business grew and when he was old enough, John Joe took over the running of the business, “There was no escaping it,” he laughed.
The contractors provide all manner of services, indeed, the list goes from “A through Z” said a lighthearted Mayo man.
The Walsh’s operate no less than nine tractors made up of Deutz and Claas machines. At this time of year, they employ in the region of 12 people to work the harvest and that number will lessen during the winter months.
Deutz is the preferred machine for the contractors as the backup service and reliability has proven their worth.
When they’re not cutting silage, the contractors are agitating and spreading slurry, muck, lime and fertiliser. They offer digger services, hedge cutting, baling, re-seeding and anything else that might be required. “There wouldn’t be a lot that we don’t do” conceded John Joe.
“The first cuts are over, and we’re about half-way through the second cuts now, but we’re still baling and doing slurry at the moment,” he said, emphasising that the low-emissions slurry is what is being most requested at the moment.
The Walsh’s operate two tankers; a Slurrykat and a Hi Spec tanker – both with a trailing shoe. The SlurryKat is a new addition to the fleet but with pressure being put on farmers to comply with low-emissions targets, this is an area that contractors are moving towards to meet the needs of their customers.
“Farmers are really starting to realise the value of the slurry and they are getting far more value by going low emissions,” said John Joe, who explained that there is no longer an overpowering smell as you pass a treated field, as it was the ammonia that was producing the smell.
That ammonia is now going directly into the soil, providing the ground with those all-important nutrients instead of it polluting the atmosphere. “We’re being good boys, we’re going green” he smiled.
When it comes to specific jobs, silage is what John Joe enjoys the most and he takes great care of his surroundings while in the cab of the combine harvester.
“You’re always looking around you, listening to the machine, feeling the different field conditions and examining ways of loading, there’s no radio and it’s not just get up and drive, there’s more to it than that” said the diligent New Holland FR operator.
Over the years that the Walsh duo has been providing their services, they have noticed that contracting as a business has become a lot more professional, rather than the older approach of it happening because you simply had the correct machinery.
John joe is the proud father of four children, his only son Seán joined him and Andy to make up the third generation of the family on the contracting team.
Seán likes working with his father and grandfather, however, John Joe is happy that he also completed a course in college as a mechanical engineer. “There might be a lot of changes coming in the next few years in the farming scene,” said John Joe, “It’s not going down a good road” he warned.
John joe fears that there will be many casualties along the way in terms of the future of Irish farming, for both farmers and contractors and he gives it just two years before the pressure takes its toll.
Even with the long summer hours and tough work involved in contracting, good-natured Kilmaine man said with a laugh, “sure, it’s great fun, you couldn’t have it any other way”.
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