Gethings Contractors is a family-run business which has been in the game for nearly 100 years in the Offaly area.
We spoke to Alan Gethings, who is the fourth-generation business owner.
Alan runs two Spearhead hedge cutters for 24 weeks of the year. The bigger machine is a Twiga 655T and Alan powers this using a Case CS 130. The smaller model is a Twiga 500 and it is powered by a Massey Ferguson 390. In 2016, Alan’s hedge-cutting workload was broken down into a 14-week period cutting verges for the county council and a 10-week period cutting hedges for local farmers and homeowners.
Alan charges a rate of €40 per hour including VAT for the larger 6.5m hedge cutter and a rate of €35 per hour including VAT for the smaller 5m hedge-cutter.
Speaking about the hedge cutters, Alan said: “I really like the Spearhead machines because of their versatility and simplicity. They are well-designed machines which are easy to put on to the tractor or take off; it only takes 15 minutes.’’
‘‘The controls are nice and simple to use with minimal electronics compared with some other brands out there. Some brands have gone down the line of using far too much electronic controls, many of which are proving to have costly issues. However, at the end of the day, they are all relatively similar machines. Spearhead, McConnel, Twose and Bombford are all owned and distributed by the Alamo group,” he said.
We asked Alan if he was in agreement with the current hedge-cutting season legislation and he explained: “There are certain hedges that may often have to be cut for safety reasons.
‘‘However, the majority of contractors are now too afraid to cut these when the season is closed. I think there needs to be more clarity on any exemptions for cutting hazardous hedges, which pose a risk to public safety during the closed season.
‘‘Other than this, I have no objections to the closed cutting season.”
Gethings Contractors Ltd provides a wide range of services to its customers, including silage-cutting, baling, slurry spreading, hedge-cutting, ploughing, reseeding and combining. The fleet is made up of five Case tractors and one Massey Ferguson tractor. As the business is family-owned, Alan explained that the majority of the staff is from within the family circle. This includes Alan’s father, his cousin, his brother and two of his nephews.
Alan picks up 10ft swaths of silage using a JF harvester. We asked Alan if he carries out any tedding and raking of grass.
He said: “We have one customer for the past 15 years. He tests his silage on an annual basis and his silage quality ranks within the top three in the Laois/Offaly Friesian breeders’ awards. This proves that silage does not need to be tedded or raked. We mow the grass in 10ft ledges, let it wilt for a day and then pick it up. I believe that this is the best way possible to make quality silage.’’
Alan runs two Redrock TH300 loading shovels. He couldn’t praise these machines enough and said it was a shame that they went off the market.
He explained that over the past 15 years he never had to carry out any work on the machines with the exception of standard servicing and maintenance work. These loading shovels run on dual wheels and carry an 11ft fork while pushing up silage.
We asked Alan what the best machine he ever purchased was. After some deliberation, he explained that the JF 900 harvester gave one of the biggest jumps in output he ever witnessed. This machine was purchased 37 years ago.
The business went from running a Tarrup 602B harvester with an output of 23 acres per day to the JF 900 harvester, which had an output of up to 40 acres per day.
Alan said: “I can remember the day when the harvester arrived. The difference in output at the time was phenomenal. The complete outfit was the same with the exception of the harvester and to almost double the output was huge. It was a big step-up for contractors at that time.”
We asked Alan for his opinion on the biggest challenge facing agricultural contractors. He said: “The cost of machinery nowadays is so high with such little return for your investment. It’s also proving more and more challenging to collect money from farmers. The running costs of agricultural contracting businesses are extremely high while the margins are simply too tight.”
The JF Centre was set up by Alan just two years ago. Alan explained that he got the idea four years ago while cutting silage. The gearbox went in his JF harvester and he couldn’t source any secondhand parts throughout the country. He had completed an apprenticeship as a mechanic so dismantling machinery was never a problem. The business now employs three full-time staff.
Alan began the business by purchasing a JF 1050 harvester and dismantling it for the resale of secondhand parts. Two months later, he was carrying new parts in stock. He explained that he is not an official dealer but JF has made him an associate dealer.
Alan said: “JF still haven’t made the JF Centre an official dealer because they informed me that they have an abundance of great dealers around the country and that they don’t need anymore. However, we have dealt with 616 clients since we opened our doors just two years ago. Many of these are repeat customers which is great to see.”
In 2017, the JF Centre reconditioned 19 JF harvesters. In addition, the centre has sold six harvesters so far this year with more currently in stock which are available for sale. Alan explained that the JF centre are currently carrying all parts on the shelf for the JF 900 model right through to the JF 1050 model. The centre sells genuine and secondhand parts.
Alan informed us that the majority of people working JF harvesters are farmers who cut their own silage. These farmers are typically cutting 150 to 200 acres of silage per year. However, there are still a number of contractors who run JF harvesters and cut up to 1,000 acres of silage per year.
Alan is always trying to promote and grow his business and take on any opportunity that comes his way. Almost a year and a half ago, Alan took on the Spearhead agency for the midlands area.
He informed us that there is huge interest locally in these machines. The JF Centre also carries a wide selection of parts for all hedge cutters. Alan expressed his gratitude towards all of his customers who helped him to build his business. He also promised us that there is more in the pipeline for machinery sales.