It’s nearly that time of the year when contractors across the country get ready for a hectic schedule of first cut silage amongst other crucial services. With over 85% of farms in Ireland making silage each year, farmers are hugely dependent on contractors. Agri Insider spoke with the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) and their new Managing Director, Anne Gleeson Hanrahan about some of the challenges its members face for 2023.
The (FCI), is the national association representing Agricultural/Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland. There are around 1,100 Farm & Forestry Contractors listed on the FCI database, working across an average of three Irish farms per day. According to the FCI, the average spend per Irish farm on Farm Contractor Services is €5,682 per annum. The total annual spend on Farm Contracting Services by Irish farmers is over €760 million.
Obstacles for Contractors
According to Anne Hanrahan, 2022 was a good year despite obvious challenges, she said: “Overall, contractors were happy with 2022 much of which was determined by good weather conditions against a background of huge increases in fuel costs.” However, just like other sectors in agriculture, there are obstacles facing contractors. “The biggest challenges include machinery cost inflation and skilled labour shortages.”
On the issue of machinery cost inflation, according to the FCI, the new Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) III is providing farmers with “virtually free machines”, as their members are excluded from grant aid for machinery investment. The FCI are worried that many contractors may leave the sector with huge cost inflations. The number of machinery dispersal sales among agricultural contractors, being advertised in the media since last autumn, are lower according to FCI.
Skilled labour shortages is a universal problem for contractors currently, as many struggle to get appropriately skilled operators. This problem is compounded by the seasonality of some of the work undertaken by contractors.The lack of new entrants and the lack of appeal of the sector to younger people is contributing to a decline in investment in the FCI’s opinion. One helping tool that has been proposed by the FCI is to create an Agricultural Contractor Register for Ireland.
The Register would see skills training for entry level operators which would be a form of an Apprenticeship Scheme for tractor, agricultural and Forest Machine Operators. As it stands, Farm & Forestry Contractors currently have no access to any such knowledge programmes. Speaking on the issue, Anne Hanrahan added: “There needs to be recognition of the agricultural contractor sector and an apprenticeship programme to train skilled machine operators.”
Over the past few weeks the FCI have detailed their frustration at their exemption from the TAMS scheme. They contend that machinery investment grants are targeted at the wrong people, farmers through machinery grants rather than Agricultural Contractors with skills and expertise who deliver economies of scale and do the work.
Speaking on the issue, Anne said: “FCI frustration is that contractors who operate as sole traders or limited companies, are excluded from grant aid, even though they carry out the bulk of the work on Irish farms. FCI believes that the machines should be granted aid for doing the work rather than grant aid to farmers to buy machines when there are enough machines in the country. Farmers can get a 60% grant to buy a selected machine, while professional contractors are not eligible to get any grant aid. Grant-aiding machines drive up prices for machines and contractors who are not eligible for these grants end up having to pay much higher grant-inflated prices for replacement machines.”
There are many reasons why the FCI feel sidelined by the DAFM on several issues. Through the exclusion of TAMS, the FCI believes that there will be a negative economic impact. There are concerns around slurry and silage management priorities namely the construction of additional slurry storage capacity and additional silage storage capacity might prevent FCI members working on top of high pits.
FCI is requesting that as part of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027, that it support in creating a National Register Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland. The FCI are looking for better recognition and more support for what they consider equal opportunities in the sector but it seems that political will to support contractors is absent.