On 16 and 17 June, PJ Callan Farm, Garden and Landscape Machinery celebrated half a century in business, marking the occasion with two customer appreciation days.
Today, the Ardee, Co Louth-based dealer is best known as the Irish importer and distributor for Einbock harrows and mechanical weeders. as well as the Kioti tractor and UTV brand.
The Callans are also distributors for other specialised brands including Mammut cement mixers, Concept shredders, Rocha fertiliser spreaders and sprayers and BCS Tractors, as well as stockists of Malone, Caravaggi, Berta, Del Morino and Marolin.
PJ Callan was established by Paddy Callan and his wife Josie in 1973. Prior to this, Paddy had worked as a farmhand, up until 1955. After buying tickets to Canada, Paddy was set on emigrating.
In the meantime, he had a change of heart having been offered a job as sales man with PF Taffe Hardware in Ardee, where he spent seven years before taking on a role with machinery dealers, McGees of Ardee.
Over the years McGees held franchises for Ford, Bomford, Allis Chalmers and County. Having spent eight years as a sales man with the business and now well experienced in the trade, Paddy decided one day that there was an opportunity to start up his own business.
Supported by his wife, Paddy made the move and set up shop in 1973 just outside Ardee town on the Kells road, practically on the same site as today, albeit working out of a small green tin shed.
Some of the first products sold by Callan included Teagle three-point linkage cement mixers and yard scrapers.
A short while later, an agency for the Finnish-built Fiskars ploughs, was secured.
“The ploughs did well for us. I remember selling as many as 75 ploughs per year. At that time, a typical two-sod Fiskars plough would have cost in the region of £695. Cork Farm Machinery were the importers at the time,” Paddy explained. By 1975, the Callans had purchased the current site from Louth County Council and built their first store.
“I then took on the agency for the PZ haybobs and drum mowers in 1976. At that time, practically everyone was a small farmer and had a tractor of some description. So, where there were tractors, there was going to be a demand for implements and so there was.”
“Murphys of Littleton were the PZ importer. I recall the days of PZ mowers and haybobs arriving in the yard here by the truck load, 75 at a time. We used to unload the trucks with a Nuffield tractor fitted with a front loader.” This particular Nuffield tractor remains present in the business today, alongside Paddy’s Ford Escort service van.
In the early 1980s, Ardee Ford dealership, McGees, ceased business, leaving an opening for someone to pick up the mantle and so Paddy took on Ford and, later, New Holland until 1999. Changes then came to the New Holland dealer network and Callans later parted ways with the brand.
By now, PJ Callan had organically grown to employ a number of staff, including a store man, sales man and a service man. In the late 1980s, a two-way radio was the method of communication with the store while out on the road, he said.
A large antenna was fitted above the premises which meant conversations could be had wirelessly up to a 15km radius. He described this as a great advancement in an era where there was no alternative method of communication.
It was now the mid 1990s and Paddy’s son, John, had come home from college to get involved in the family business. Today, John heads up the business with a team of eight staff.
Paddy stumbled upon the South Korean-built Kioti brand at a Spanish farm machinery show having been on the lookout for brands that had potential to sell well in Ireland.
“The Kioti range impressed me and I felt it had potential in Ireland. By 2003, we were signed up as Irish importers. Although Kioti built tractors over the 100hp mark, we always stuck with the more compact sub 100hp models. Selling tractors for more specialised applications naturally saw customers requiring specialised implements. This led us on to many of the brands we still sell today, shaping the current business as such.”
Both Paddy and John were quick to highlight the importance of Einbock in the modern day business. Paddy recalls the day a customer from Cork rang enquiring about an Einbock harrow, a brand he hadn’t heard of at the time but was left curious.
He soon managed to make contact with Austrian man and then owner of Einbock, Leopold Einbock II. Having struck a deal on a number of harrows, Callans later became the Irish importers of Einbock.
“Today, we are lucky to be partnered with such an established brand, with years of experience building mechanical weeders and hoes. With the move away from chemicals, this is where crop protection is headed and an opportunity for us,” John noted.
In 2010, the premises was again extended into the modern store and workshop facility it is today.
“The extent to which the sector has changed in 50 years, is phenomenal, from incentivising production to curtailing it. The demise of the small farmer was a real loss to businesses like ours.
“We went from selling hundreds of implements such as ploughs to smaller farmers, to now selling much fewer machines to specialised farmers and contractors at many times the price.
“If the next 50 years bring about as much change as the last, then farming and agriculture is going to be very different,” Paddy explained.