5 minutes with David Kean

President, Rural Contractors
New Zealand

Rural contractors are a vital aspect of the $1.5 billion primary sector. How does your organisation fit into the picture?

Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ) is a national body and we have more than 500 members, spread from Northland down to my home base in Southland.

It's a growing industry – year on year around 5 percent – which in part reflects the changes taking place in farming, including agglomeration (or clustering).

We don't represent all contractors but our members are bound by a code of conduct and other requirements. This gives farmers and other clients confidence in engaging an RCNZ member to do the job.

 

Interesting that you mention agglomeration, what does thismean for Rural Contractors NZ?

Our biggest membership base is across those regions where dairying is particularly strong – Waikato/Bay of Plenty, 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.

Dairy farmers 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 team monitor policies, plans and proposals – what are some of the bigger changes that impact your members' work?

Our biggest challenge, other than the weather, remains getting sufficiently 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 and safety, with a current focus on those of us who spray chemicals, is the other big one for us. It's fair to say that while most contractors provide personal protective equipment and take sensible precautions, the tougher requirements emerging do present their challenges, especially for smaller operators.

 

Farmers are adopting technology at varying speeds. What tech is impacting how your members deliver their services?

Smartphones, when they operate in a rural area, have had the biggest impact. We can be in touch with clients and staff as well as use them to track where we are operating and record what we are doing.

I recently had my son operating a drone over one of our machines, to show me what it could do. Clearly drone-assisted operations are now emerging.

 

Along the same line, how do you see self-driven machinery influencing the future?

Self-driven machinery would certainly reduce the stresses we face in securing skilled operators! We bring in around 150 a year, mostly contractors from the UK and Ireland and they tend to be good workers. Obviously, the technology is emerging that will reduce that need but I think it will tend to emerge first with farmers using it on their own defined properties.

Given we travel from property to property, which presents a whole range of variables, I don't think rural contractors will be the first cab off the technology rank. However, we all have to be pretty tech-savvy these days and your phone is just 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 on 4th May. They will head to Hamilton,Christchurch, Gore, Nelson, Palmerston North and Napier throughout May.

Attendees will get the latest information on:

  • regulations
  • best practice handling and storage of chemicals
  • minimising risks
  • 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 23rd – 25th June. Our conferences are going from strength to strength with a diverse programme and featuring brilliant speakers.

Details of the Roadshows and Conference can be found on the RCNZ website: www.ruralcontractors.org.nz