Tractor drivers a breed apart
Come September the guttural roar of tractors will be heard nationwide. During the next few months, grass must be cut and baled or put in a silage pit. Paddocks must be prepared for maize, turnips and chicory then planted.
Those with the job of carrying out much of the work are New Zealand’s agricultural contractors. Estimates put the number of people employed in the industry at about 20,000 with an annual output of $2 billion.
But there is a problem. Contractors are struggling to get workers. The reason, they say, is three-fold: New Zealand is short of experienced tractor drivers. Gone are the days of the Massey Fergusson anyone could drive – now you need to be part-mechanic and partcomputer whiz to even know where to start.
Contract driving is seasonal. The most any employer can guarantee is a few months’ work, then employees need to find other work to get through the year.
The days are long and the work is hard, and not everybody is willing to stick it out. That is where Colin Flynn comes in. The bulky Irishman is among the first of thousands who will flood into the country in the coming months to fill the demand gap.
Industry estimates suggest that between 2500 to 3000 people enter the country each spring to work as agricultural contractors.
Not all are Irish – Scots, English and other Europeans also feature on the list.
Most come to New Zealand with more experience under their belts than any Kiwi their age. Farming is intensive in their part of the world and long hours standard; work has to be done before the weather closes in.
But not only are they experienced, they come ready and willing to work.
This is, after all, the life they have chosen: Flying around the world, chasing the sun and the harvest, working for as long as they are needed, then heading off to another summer. Flynn is fresh from a season in Australia. From Kildare in southern Ireland, he arrived seven weeks ago and is already working for Neven Granich in Hinuera.
Flynn, 22, has been driving since he was 15, and said at least two of those years were learning to drive all the different machines.
‘‘There are different brands and different makes of tractor and they’re all different.
‘‘It took me a year, two years to get to know how to drive everything but now that I know how to do it, it’s just a skill for myself and it’s a good quality to have.’’
Despite holding a degree in agriculture and forestry, Flynn says driving is where his passion lies.
‘‘I started doing this work on Saturdays when I was in school and when I left school, I just got stuck into this and I ended up sticking to it and I quite enjoy it.
‘‘When the season starts it’s a big rush and everybody gets busy, and then you have your quiet, your off-season and everybody gets a chance to kinda relax for a couple of weeks.
‘‘I have done 18 or 20 hours in one go but that’s because the rush is on because we can see the rain coming, so all the farmers start to panic then and they’re ringing up, ‘ Where are you, where are you?’.’’-