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Tom Murphy
Professional Agricultural
Contractors of Ireland

Better deal for contractors

I regularly meet with groups of agricultural contractors to discuss their worries and what is happening with their businesses.

Recently, the future of the agricultural-contracting sector was top of the agenda, and this is particularly worrying. The enormous financial investment that agricultural contractors must make to service their farmer clients is causing huge concern especially as there is no guaranteed return on their investment. In addition, like the children of farmers, agricultural contractors’ families are not rushing to take over the family business, thus leaving an uncertain future and an even bigger labour gap to be filled.
Concerns over investment and labour, which are fundamental to the existence of the business, along with the increasing costs of overheads and onerous legislative requirements, do not make agricultural contracting an attractive prospect for future generations.

Dangerous assumptions

But there is an assumption with our policy makers at both national and European level, that agricultural contractors will always be ready, available and tooled up no matter what the circumstances. This is a somewhat arrogant attitude and very risky, considering the vital role contractors play in viable and sustainable production. At the same time, agricultural contractors fall outside the umbrella of the agricultural sector and policymakers give them no consideration, and at a national level they are excluded from benefitting from farm machinery grants.
I also think it is fair to say neither the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or Brussels have any idea about the wellbeing or sustainability of the agricultural-contracting sector.  A few years ago, at a meeting in Brussels, I asked a Commission official if agricultural contractors were taken into consideration when setting the Common Agricultural Policy.  He simply said ‘no’ and admitted the Commission knew nothing about contractors. I feel that is also pretty much the case in Kildare Street.

Critical times

The future of contracting in Ireland is at a critical juncture. The challenges created by the need for technological advancement and environmental sustainability along with policy changes, will affect both farmers and contractors alike.
The EU’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies, with targets for a reduction in pesticide use, improving biodiversity, and a target of 25 per cent of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030, will have a direct impact on the future direction of agricultural contracting.

Contractors will need to adapt their practices to meet the standards required and invest in new eco-friendly high-tech machinery.
It cannot be overstated how much post-2020 CAP reforms, with a plethora of regulations and support mechanisms for farmers, will influence how farmers engage with agricultural contractors.

As I’ve said before ,there is no goodwill in an agricultural contracting business. After a lifetime of hard work, or if the owner should fall ill, their customers move on to another contractor and it is the luck of the draw if they can sell on their machinery without making a loss. If a farmer decides to retire and does not have a successor, his assets can be sold on or leased as a going concern. Without doubt, we need a better deal for agricultural contractors, one that will give them a secure future and clarity for the role they are expected to play in the farming sector.