Trac­tor driv­ers a breed apart

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By NARELLE HEN­SON

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?’.’’-

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