‘There’s just too much machinery’: Contractor on how margins are being affected by the rise in competition’
Returns are flat on the three strands of Eamonn Burke’s farming enterprise in Galway.
He describes tillage as “a complete struggle”; the contracting business is literally contracting because of the glut of used machinery and profit margins on beef are “very tight”.
Now 37, Eamonn began farming as a teenager with his dad, Tommy, and works 200 hectares near Claregalway in North Galway.
Despite the margin malaise in the various sectors, Eamonn takes a plough-on view of things.
“At least this year was better than 2016 which was a disaster with the weather causing crops to be left in the fields,” he says.
“We are getting €140 a tonne for the grains which is not great but it is better than last year.”
However, he will not be sowing a crop of barley, oats or wheat this winter.
On the contracting side, margins are being affected by the rise in the number of contractors competing for baling, reseeding and slurry work available – not only locally but nationwide.
Ten years ago he was doing 25,000 bales a year – this year it was down 10,000.
“I have very loyal customers but when the recession hit an awful lot of lads returned home and began working as contractors which resulted in a huge increase in machinery available for this work,” says Eamonn.
“There’s just too much machinery. Added to that farmers are using less fertilizer which is reducing the baling work available.”
Returns on his herd of 70 Friesian bulls, which he rears to two years, are tight.
Despite the economic flatness of the past few years, Eamonn is still investing in the contracting business and recently bought a new baler.
Eamonn is married to Lorraine, an administrator with a private clinic in Galway, and the couple have three young children: Evan (6), Killian (3) and the youngest, Emily, who is 10 months old.
Off farm his interests centre on the GAA, ploughing and farm politics.
In his younger years he played minor football for Galway.
“No All Ireland medals – they are rare in Galway football but when I got a knee injury I just moved on,” he recalls today.
Like any tillage man his interest in ploughing remains strong while his teamwork ethic has made him a natural for IFA activism.
He is currently the Galway rural development chairman of the association.
He believes it is becoming very hard for the ordinary farmer to survive without an off-farm income.
On the tillage side, he warns that there are concerns over the difficulties to reach agreement at EU level on the extension of the license for glyphosate.
He describes it as bureaucratic overreach.
“The banning of these chemicals does not make sense in terms of food production, especially in Ireland,” he says.
In conversation with Ken Whelan of Farm Ireland.