Neilus O Connor from Co. Kerry runs a tillage farm and contracting business from Moyvane, Listowel where he lives with his wife Katie and fifteen-month-old son Tadgh.
He is passionate in equal parts about his crops and the contracting business and loves nothing more than to see his produce in the local shops. Such is his passion and respect for farmers and their livelihoods, Neilus is also a heavily involved member of the IFA.
The Kerryman went to Pallaskenry Agricultural College after leaving school at the age of seventeen to complete his Green Cert. There was no doubt whatsoever that Neilus wanted to join his father on the farm. He would help out wherever he could all through his youth.
Neilus’ father Paddy hails from Causeway and when he moved north with his wife Bridie, he took with him, the tradition of growing potatoes for the general market, although this is no longer the main activity on their farm. “It was a new thing at the time” smiled Neilus.
“It was a very dairy orientated place and he was the first man to grow tillage in that area in the 80’s”.
Neilus would describe his business as forage contracting, meaning that he grows and sells silage from the family farm. He maintains a contract with six dairy farmers, selling three to four thousand round bales of silage per year.
The third services provided by the O’Connors is slurry and silage contracting. This has grown over the years and has become the mainstay of the business, taking over from the potatoes since 2009.
Paddy was always an advocate of selling hay when Neilus was still small, and as the surrounding dairy herds grew, Paddy’s business of selling hay and silage grew with it.
From there, the O’Connors bought their own machinery - three McHale round balers; a Fusion and two 5500s to cut approximately two-thousand-acres of grass.
The Fusion baler brought some scepticism early on as they were worried that they may not have the horsepower to operate it, but more importantly, a wet year may see operations ruined, given the heavy soil type. But what Neilus and his father were unable to foresee was the unavailability of labour.
The O’Connors employ two men full-time to help them with operations, but it is the lack of seasonal workers that Neilus finds most challenging.
“We’re very lucky to have two new employees this year,” says Neilus, of Jack Brennan and Christopher Killane, “But labour is the biggest problem for contractors, in general,” he explained.
Neilus knows that contracting is a difficult job with long hours and tight margins and that might be a factor in deterring some younger people into the work. “Competing with the likes of construction and retail industries, there’s not much consistency and it’s difficult to compete with that,” he said.
The thirty-five-year-old insists that having a good contracting business is founded on two main factors; the staff and the reliability of your main dealer.
The O’Connors have bought their fleet of Case International tractors and all their machinery from Buckley Agri Services in Listowel as Neilus counts their backup service and the support from Mike Lynch and as one of the main reasons that his business is thriving.
“Every minute you’re down, your reputation of reliability is on the line; you are only as good as the people you have on the ground,” said the farmer.
After silage, comes the job of spreading slurry and Neilus is prepared. He just recently bought a new Conor tank with a trailing shoe, aware that greenhouse gas emissions and reducing your carbon footprint are a priority amongst the general population.
There is an air of joy when Neilus talks about the farm, it is infectious. The excitement grows further when he talks about seeing his potatoes on the shelves in the local Twohig group SuperValu supermarkets in Kanturk, Abbeyfeale and Askeaton.
“It’s a sense of pride” he smiled, “I love it when people come up to me and say your potatoes are great this year,” he said.
The Kerry family plant about 15-acres, divided into ten-acres of Kerr’s Pink, with another five given over to British Queens.
The family-run affair sees Paddy taking the lead on the potato spraying when the time is right and Bridie looks after the books. “Their input is invaluable to me, I’m very lucky to have both of them on board,” said Neilus - who thanks his mother for bringing him to IFA meetings for as long as he can remember.
Their influence has shaped the passion and pride that Neilus has for his business and he hopes that he will continue to carry the tradition to his baby son Tadgh.
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