Pierce Murphy (centre) with colleagues Pat Kelly (left)& Niall Marron of Meath Farm Machinery Ltd.

Labour to work machinery is the big issue on farms

After 40-plus years working with Meath Farm Machinery in Cavan, Pierce Murphy has seen the role of machinery and technology change significantly on farms.

“I started out in the workshop in the late '70s and have been a sales rep for nearly 30 years. Machinery has gotten a lot bigger since I started. One tractor is doing what two or three used to do.”

This increase in farm machinery capacity goes some way to make up for labour shortages that farmers and contractors are experiencing.

“Dairy farmers don’t like buying machinery. Labour shortage is a big problem for them. They haven’t the time to do jobs like slurry, so they get contractors to do it. They have the basic machinery to do the bare minimum when it comes to tractor work.”

The increased cost of machinery, as well as high employee wage bills, are also leading more farmers to turn to contractors.

“I spoke to a dairy farmer from Cavan recently with 130 cows who has no tractor. He gets the contractor to do everything, including feeding cows - they come in every day.

“He reckoned if he had an employee to do the jobs it would cost him €30,000- €35,000 per year in wages as well as the cost of the tractor, which includes high maintenance costs.

“It depends on the price of milk but it’s reckoned it takes an extra 50 cows to pay your labour bill. It varies from case to case but generally good livestock farmers have no interest in machinery, all they want is something with four legs rather than four wheels.”

Pierce also says that technological advances are a factor in improving farm efficiency, with devices such as GPS playing an increasingly important role in farms.

“GPS is very specialised. You can set up two people sowing in a field and if they use a GPS it will guide them so they meet perfectly in the middle with no overlapping at all. They make the tractor steer itself so the driver is free to concentrate on the machine behind it.”

This has led to more farmers being left increasingly dependent on GPS according to Pierce.

“I had a customer recently whose GPS broke down. He was on the phone to me immediately. He just wasn’t able to cope without it. The cost of things like fertiliser and sprays have all gone up, so it increases productivity by ensuring there’s no waste.”

Pierce says that studies have been undertaken to back up such claims.

“John Deere have done tests comparing driving combines with GPS compared to combines that are solely human-based. They show that after two hours of driving a human driver will start to get tired and their concentration starts to slip and it gets increasingly worse, but with a GPS there is no drop-off in performance.”