The agricultural contracting industry has changed hugely in the last 30 years. Just ask Kevin and Kirsten White from Bradfields near Te Awamutu, a business that has succeeded in changing with the times.
As a loose measure of how well your agricultural contracting business is tracking, Bradfields Kevin White has a fast and easy method – just take a look at your implement shed. Or rather, how much of your gear won’t fit in your implement shed.
“We built a new 15x40m shed about four years ago,” says Kevin, motioning out the window of his equally new site office (part of a larger staff complex at the heart of Bradfields’ yard, about 20km south of Te Awamutu) towards the shed in question. “We thought that was plenty big enough when it was built, but now we probably need to double it. And build another one too.”
As far as problems go, it’s probably a good one to have – the yard-full of equipment a shiny metal sign of growth that can’t be denied. Consistent growth for consistently good service is an equation Kevin and wife Kirsten White expect nowadays. Although contracting work hasn’t always been Bradfields’ primary focus.
Established in 1966, the farm was originally run by Kevin’s father Graeme and his grandfather, Alan Bradfield White (which is where the name comes from), although for a time Kevin’s father also successfully designed and manufactured spray equipment, exporting around 200 units a year to Australia through the early ‘80s.
As a background to the contracting business, the farm remains a high-producing dairy operation to this day. Managed by Mike Crawford we currently have the target of 4.5 cows per ha producing 500 milk solids per cow.
“I spent a fair bit of time in Western Australia driving after leaving school, but when the sprayer units really took off, Dad called me back here to help out,” says Kevin. “In between times I started doing more contracting work and things grew from there.”
“Contracting was a very different game 30 years ago. You’d go hard for three months and then have four months off – it was a great lifestyle. When the Australian ag sector went through some hard times in the mid-‘80s, we consolidated the sprayer manufacturing and really ramped up the contracting side of the business. We haven’t looked back.”
There might not have been any looking back of late, but there certainly has been a lot of forward planning.
“Planning is everything,” says Kirsten, who takes a full-time interest in the company, along with operations managers Phill Daniels and Rex Fare. “Knowing what you want to do and how you’re going to get there is critical. We generally exceed our targets and timeframes, which I think is proof of what you can achieve with a good plan in place.”
Laughs Kevin, “When Kirsten came along she certainly kicked me into line. She helped me implement better systems and get organised. The end result is double digit growth for the last 10 years. I think that’s a reflection of how much planning works, and also of the way the industry has developed in the last couple of decades.”
Kevin and Kirsten both agree that the industry is not only a lot more professional these days, but a lot more market-savvy too, what with more competition for big contracts.
As Kevin points out, being more market-savvy doesn’t just relate to the ability to promote your services to a local audience, but rather the ability to be aware of the market for machines – the contractor’s tools of trade – on both a domestic and international level.
“We will always try to support the local dealers first and foremost. Having a healthy operation with good after-sales service in the district is vital. It’s good for everybody. But we have to look after our own bottom-line as well and, these days, with the internet being what it is, a good deal on a good machine is just a couple of clicks away.
“Back in the late ‘80s you wouldn’t have thought of hopping on a plane, heading to a big machinery auction in the States, buying a combine and bringing it home. But these days you can – in fact we’ve recently done exactly that. We’ve also imported bits and pieces out of Europe. We have our mechanics Gary and Tim on-site, meaning it’s really cost effective for us to import our own parts too.”
Having full-time mechanics on-site is vital for Bradfields with, all told, around a hundred items of equipment sporting the company logo (including three foragers, 15 tractors, 11 trucks, a grain combine, utes and a multitude of truck trailers and Ag equipment). Not only is the basic maintenance of such a large fleet a constant task, but COF and WOF management is a crucial aspect of the back-room side of the operation too. Being able to boast a five-star rating with the New Zealand Transport Agency suggests Bradfields have their fleet systems working rather effectively.
Kevin is a big advocate for constant maintenance; believing gear that works well gives both operators and clients the best possible result.
“It also means we’re not afraid to buy second-hand and we’ve bought gear through auction and tender before. I have one tractor that has just clicked over 10,000 hours, but it’s still a great tractor and I’ll hang on to it for awhile yet.
“I love the buying and selling aspect of the job,” he continues. “I’m interested in the gear, so I like to do my research before buying.”
As to brand loyalties, Kevin reckons he’s loyal to any manufacturer that builds a machine that’ll do what’s expected of it. We have predominately CaseIH as well as 5 New Hollands. He also runs one New Holland FR9060 and two Claas Jaguar foragers, along with a John Deere 9500 grain combine. Kevin’s big trucks are an assortment of identically liveried Hinos, Isuzu’s, Iveco’s, Mitsubishi and Nissan Diesels. They are proud of the fact Bradfields were first to cover tractors and trailers (pre-regulation) on every single load they transport to mitigate debris on the roads.
In fact a firm focus on safety is a big aspect of the Bradfields operation. With machines travelling the roads of not only the wider Waikato, but the King Country and Taranaki too, it needs to be.
“We work really hard to remain safe and visible on the roads – it’s a big issue,” says Kevin. “We use marker boards and LED lights on all our big plant. We’re constantly on the CB when on the move, letting truckies in the area know where we’re at – we’ll get off the road and let them past. We tell our guys never to convoy because getting past one tractor is much easier than getting past a line of them.
“We’ll use cones and signs in any area where we have multiple machines working and we also try and ensure we don’t have big gear moving at night. That can be a logistical challenge, especially when you have crews working further afield, but at the end of the day we want to be as courteous to motorists as we can.”
It’s a serious business in a competitive industry, but as Kevin and Kirsten are quick to point out, having a solid team and a good sense of humour are essential ingredients to a successful operation.
“We call ourselves ‘Team Bradfield’ and we’ve gone to great efforts to surround ourselves with good people,” says Kevin. The majority of our Team have been with us for a long time and a lot of our success is a result from their effort and dedication. “Our company philosophy is firstly, to ensure we do a good job, and secondly to have fun while we’re doing it.”
It would seem the Bradfields positive attitude is a recipe for success. And if you’re at all in doubt, just drop by the yard some time and check out how many machines haven’t made it into the implement shed yet.