David Kean, President, Rural Contractors NZ
- Rural contractors are a vital aspect of the primary sector – a $1.5b industry. How does your organisation fit into the picture? Rural Contractors NZ is the national body and we have more than 500 members spread from Northland down here to my home base in Southland. It’s a growing industry – year on year around 5% – which in part reflects changes in farming including agglomeration. We don’t represent all contractors but our members are bound by a code of conduct and other requirements which give farmers and other clients confidence in engaging an RCNZ member.
- Interesting that you mention agglomeration, what does this mean for Rural Contractors NZ? Well our biggest membership base is across those regions where dairying is particularly strong – Waikato/BOP, Canterbury, Southland and Northland. That is not to say we are not present in other regions as we are and rural contractors do a whole range of work including in orchards, vineyards and for councils. But dairy farms do tend to be bigger operations, sometimes created by farm agglomeration, and they need contractors to assist with the scale of work they face. They have greater demands for feed such as baleage, sileage, hay and fodder beet. A lot of our work as rural contractors is focused on producing that feed and associated activities such as spraying for weed control in crops like fodder beet.
- With challenging weather conditions, have rural contractors had to change how they operate to learn from major incidents? The increasingly unpredictable weather is certainly making life more difficult at times for many contractors. Be it drought or flood, we can only operate when conditions are suitable for activities such as sowing, spraying, sileage and haymaking. We are having to be ever more adaptable and work with our clients who are facing the same frustrations as contractors.
- Your organisation monitors policies, plans and proposals across the spectrum. What are some of the bigger changes that impact how rural contractors in New Zealand need to operate? Our biggest challenge, other than the weather, remains getting sufficient skilled machinery operators for the spring-autumn season. New immigration policies that are more employer-led may assist but we are seeking to confirm interim arrangements with the Government. The increasing focus on health & safety, with a particular focus of late on those of us who spray chemicals, is the other big one for us. It’s fair to say that while most contractors provide PPE and take sensible precautions, emerging tougher requirements do present their challenges especially for smaller operators.
- Farmers are adopting technology at varying speeds. What are some of the big changes in technology that are impacting how your members deliver their services? Cellphones, when they operate in a rural area, have had the biggest impact. We can not only be in touch with clients and staff but we use our phones to track where we operate and record what we do. I recently had my son operating a drone over one of our machines. He was just showing me what it could do and clearly drone-assisted operations are now emerging.
- Along the same line as drone-assisted operations, how do you see developments of self-driven machinery influencing how rural contracting is delivered in the future? Self-driven machinery would certainly reduce the stresses we face in securing skilled operators. We bring in around 150 a year, mostly lads from the UK and Ireland and they tend to be good workers. Obviously, the technology is emerging that will reduce that need but I’d think it will tend to emerge first with farmers, using it on their own defined properties. Given we travel from property to property, with a whole range of variables, I don’t think rural contractors will be the first cab off this technology rank. However, we are all now having to be pretty tech-savvy and your phone is already as important as your toolbox.
- Last year, RCNZ held a road show. Are there any events planned for the next 12 months? Yes, the 2020 Agrichemical Afternoons and Roadshows , supported by GrowSafe, Responsible Care, Nufarm and Croplands, start in Whangarei May 4; then its Hamilton May 5, Christchurch May 11, Gore May 14, Nelson May 21, Palmerston North May 25 and concluding in Napier on May 26. Attendees get the latest information on the regulations, on best practice handling and storage of chemicals, minimising risks and staying accredited. They also get four Professional Development points towards their Registered Chemical Applicator renewal. From there, we roll into our jubilee conference, being held in Rotorua from June 23-25. Our conferences are going from strength to strength with a diverse programme and speakers. Details of the Roadshows and conference on our website – www.ruralcontractors.org.nz