James Heanue is sales manager for Ireland for McHale Farm Machinery, based in Mayo. In an interview with Matt O’Keeffe, James outlines the development of McHale into a major international farm machinery manufacturer and the success of the company in developing and building machines that can cope with rigorous Irish working conditions.
The McHale machinery profile includes fixed and variable chamber round balers, round and square bale wrappers, front and rear mounted mowers in addition to butterfly mowers and centre delivery grass rakes. The latter machine is a relatively new addition, first launched at last year’s National Ploughing Championships. The big-ticket machine at this stage, of course, is the Fusion range of combination baler/wrappers.
Anticipating farming trends
James believes the fact that Padraig and Martin McHale, the co-founders of McHale, are from farming backgrounds has given them an advantage in being readily able to identify key requirements in Irish grassland farming: “After working with turf and potato-harvesting equipment, they began the machinery manufacturing company making block cutters and slurry pumps. They went on, then, to develop their own round bale wrappers and that reflected the growing interest in making round bales in the west of Ireland back in the 1980s. They had the perfect machine-testing conditions, because if a machine could survive difficult Irish farm terrain, small fields and heavy soils, allied to large tonnages of fresh grass, then they knew they had a machine that would be successful further afield.” McHale also uses the ‘alternative’ summer season in New Zealand to field test its machines. That speeds up the lead-in time to bring machines from the research and development phases into commercial production. With current exports to 50 countries on six continents, clearly the McHale R&D and manufacturing strategy is a successful one.
The Fusion benefits
The McHale sales manager describes the impact of the development of the combination baler/wrapper Fusion range: “The first Fusion was launched in 2002. That was followed by the fixed chamber baler, brought to market two years later, in 2004. That catered for customers who wanted a standalone baler. Where the Fusion really succeeds is in achieving cost reductions for farmers and contractors. The Fusion 3 and 3Plus, developed in recent years, allows film wrap to be used as well as continuing the option of netwrap. The film wrap does deliver improved quality. The bale is tighter and denser, expelling more air from the bale exterior. So there’s more high-quality grass in the bale. In winter, there’s no net warp to deal with when feeding out the bale and that’s particularly useful for those farmers who have a grab that can take off the plastic mechanically.” The other big benefit of the Fusion baler/wrapper, as James sees it, is labour reduction: “Manpower is a big issue on Irish farms. It is, effectively, a one-person operation, done in one pass with one large-horsepower tractor. There is no stop-start involved as the machine is in continuous operation baling grass as another bale is being wrapped and expelled.” There is a perception among some farmers that the Fusion is a big, heavy machine not suited to some heavier soils. James Heanue knocks this perception on the head: “Weight distribution is important and the Fusion is built to travel over the ground efficiently. It is on a single axle, which greatly reduces ground cutting when turning at headlands. With a decent 150hp tractor in front of it, the machine keeps moving with minimal impact on the soil. So that perception of the machine is completely misplaced. The proof of the Fusion’s efficiency on heavier ground is that many of our Fusions operate on those soils regularly, with a big presence in counties that have some degree of heavy land, including Galway, Mayo and Kerry.”
Ongoing machine development
The McHale representative and Harper Adams University graduate keeps a close eye on machinery developments: “With the ongoing push towards making higher-quality silage, we have been conscious of the need to develop a range of mounted mowers that can increase throughput and mow grass quickly to speed up the whole operation. That’s important when it rains so often in this country. The range includes front-mounted and rear-mounted models. A butterfly model has also been brought out by McHale. That allows one person to knock down a lot of grass quickly. It reduces labour and machinery requirements. Wilting grass through tedding and raking is another big development to lift grass dry matter. That’s where the big demands are from customers and our ongoing machinery development reflects those demands.”
With a 20-strong dealer network around the country, James emphasises the importance of dependable service to the McHale customer: “There are annual servicing courses for all of the McHale machines. So the mechanics are brought up to date on any changes and improvements in the machines from the previous year. Being an Irish company has benefits. Customers believe they can get quicker and more effective help in terms of parts and service, if they need it.”
The importance of Grass & Muck
With the Farm Tractor and Machinery Trade Association (FTMTA) Grass & Muck event coming up at Gurteen College later this month, James is concentrating on maximising the benefit of the exhibition and demonstration space: “Even after the late spring there will be good grass cover on the site. That’s what we want to best demonstrate the potential of the McHale machines. While a lot of the sales business has already been completed, because that’s the way the sales profile of farm machinery has gone, we do want to impress on our customers who have already bought their machines earlier in the year as to the potential of those machines in terms of output and endurance during the coming season. A lot of customers trade up their machines after two or three seasons and most of that trade is already done as well. So Grass & Muck is important to us to meet our customers, let them know what’s new and what’s coming down the line and also show off the work capacity of our machines.”