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John’s single-mindedness wins national title

John’s single-mindedness wins national title

A Waikato agricultural contractor’s pursuit of excellence all his working life has reaped handsome rewards this year.

First, John Austin, of Te Awamutu, was awarded ISO 9001:2000 certification, becoming the first member of the Rural and Associated Contractors’ Federation (RACF) to achieve this hallmark of a quality business.

Now 44-year-old John has been named the RACF New Holland Rural Contractor of the Year, a competition open to all comers.

His prize, worth $10,000, includes return airfares for two to the UK/Europe, accommodation, and a visit to a New Holland production facility.

John Austin always wanted to be a contractor and to work for himself. He left school at 16 and founded his own company when he was 21 with just a tractor and a combine harvester.

Today John Austin Ltd has 40 full-time staff, up to 30 part-time employees, 22 tractors, three forage harvesters, four eight-row maize planters, three sprayers and seven trucks. Maize constitutes more than half the workload of the company, which services 1,000 farmers within a near-40km radius bounded by Hamilton, Cambridge and Te Kuiti.

John has a simple approach to his work. “I just want to try to do it better,” he says.

Doing it better includes having his own website (, publishing an agricultural newsletter every two months, regularly visiting equipment suppliers and contractors in Europe and the United States, speaking at conferences on maize production, and running field days and seminars on his property twice a year for clients, as well as conducting crop trials.

It was John’s constant striving to improve all aspects of his work that gave him the edge over his 19 rivals in the top-contractor competition. Entrants were judged on public relations and customer service, staff training, health and safety plans, financial management (return on capital), and company policy/philosophy.

The judging panel spent six days visiting the premises of the competitors. Chief judge Dr Ian Yule, head of Massey University’s NZ Centre for Precision Agriculture, said the panel had found it inspiring to interview the competition’s four finalists and their wives at the RACF’s conference.

“It’s fantastic to see the passion with which they pursue their work in this industry. All have achieved excellence,” he said.

The other finalists, each a regional winner, were: Chris Satherly, Joyclass Farms Ltd, Palmerston North; Charlie Draper, Draper Contracting Ltd, Sheffield; and Athol Lawler, Kelso Kontracting, Gore. They each received prizes worth up to $3000.

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