John and his family hail from the Castlepollard area of Co. Westmeath, where he and his family run a contracting firm, John Wallace Agri & Sons.
Here he and his family farm a suckler farm, with around 140 cattle in total. John has been in the contracting game for almost 38 years now, with his two sons also holding an interest in the trade. He is a second generation contractor, with his dad having worked in the job also.
“He (his dad) would have been contracting back in the late 50’s, but he dropped away from it and was farming in the twenty years until I started off myself,” said John.
His family are actually the firsts in many areas. His father, in the mid 60's, was one of the first buyers of Renault tractors in the country, while he also ran one of the countries biggest dairy farms, as well as working in Tillage. That is not all though, as the team were "probably" the first to start direct drilling, and in 87 they were one of the first Pottinger customers in the country.
“I would be operating nearly 37 or 38 years myself,” he said.
The team have cut over 60,000 acres of sialge, since they began operation over 37 years ago.
Farming side of things are carried out by John, with the help of his father, who herds and feeds the cattle. His father also helps out on the contracting side, when needed.
The team includes John and his two sons, one of which is still in school.
“After that, we hire in sub-contractors, generally in the Summer” said John.
The team run with machinery of all types, not limiting themselves to one brand. They run with a John Deere harvester, while they have a fleet of tractors from all different makes. They have 7 tractors in total, of their own, including Claas tractors, Renault, John Deere and more.
“Class is the pick of the bunch at the moment”, he said.
“We try to have a mix” he laughed.
The team don’t update their machinery on the regular, as John says the last few years for every contractor has been hard.
“It has been a very uncertain time for contractors the last couple of years, so we try to keep our costs low as possible” said John.
“We’re probably up there with the best though, with the brand new outfits and it’s very seldom we lose any jobs” he added.
Their success, John will admit, is not just down to pure hard work, as he paid tribute to his loyal customer base. Some of which, he says, have been with them from the very start.
“Some of our customers have been with us for 30-35 years”, said John.
With regards the future, John is placing focus on the farm for the coming year, with a lot of reseeding in the pipeline.
“We are looking to redouble our reseeding acreage” he said.
“This year we had an all-time low (grass) with the weather” he addeds.
“Two good seed companies are backing us for the whole process...The reseeding will probably make up a quarter of all our business from here on”, he stated.
The team offer all the usual services, such as hedge cutting, dung and slurry spreading, silage seeding and ploughing.
Like all contractors, the weather is the main challenge facing John and his team.
“It is (the weather) a huge challenge to every farmer out there at the moment and it will continue to be that way...Weather is a huge challenge” he said.
He also listed prices as another factor, which causes problems for the team.
“Prices...are a huge challenge for everybody” he added.
John admits to falling in the industry. Upon leaving college he went into farming. After a while, local farmers began calling on John to carry out work, usually completed by a contractor. Although he had done his training, with plenty of experience with machinery in his locker.
“The main driver behind it was when I left college and started farming….local farmers started getting me to do baling and silage and stuff like that.
“It kind of grew from a very small beginning. I fell into it” he laughed.
Though John had intended to go travelling at the time, he says has no regrets as he has reared his family off the back of the business. His son Stephen is looking to get into the industry, though John has warned against it, as he feels the industry is no longer the same as it was.
“It’s a different climate...It’s no longer a business that can stand on its own two feet” he warned.
“They (his sons) want to get into it, but there’s no future in it...years ago if you were cutting silage it started in the middle of May and finished in October, no you’re lucky if it lasts one month” he concluded.
John Wallace Agri & Sons have been in operation for over 37 years, if his sons have their way, it will be running for another 37.