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Perks of being an agricultural contractor revealed


Monday 13th August 2018

Central Taranaki Young Farmers member Phillip Hopkins reveals the perks of being an agricultural contractor.

A passion for tractors, machinery and technology has given Phillip Hopkins a passport to see the world.

The 26-year-old has sown crops on the arid plains of Western Australia and harvested wheat in the United States.

“I’ve been chasing the sun,” he laughed. “This has been my first winter in New Zealand since 2015.”

Phillip lives in Opunake in coastal Taranaki and is an agricultural contractor for Gopperth Contracting.

The Central Taranaki Young Farmers member has worked for the company since October last year.

“No two days are the same. We do a lot of work that I never imagined a contractor would do. I enjoy the variety.”

Gopperth Contracting runs a fleet of New Holland tractors ranging in size from 120 to 270 horsepower.

It also has loader wagons, balers, mowers, rakes, swathers, seed drills, ploughs, power harrows, sprayers, trailers and a chopper.

“The business has two six-tonne kobelco diggers, which means added variety in the jobs we take on,” said the NZ Young Farmers member.

“Over the winter we’ve been doing race maintenance on dairy farms.”

The smaller diggers are ideal for site preparation work in areas where a 12T or 20T digger would be too big.

“We’ve helped build a couple of new herd homes on dairy farms in the Stratford and Eltham areas,” said Phillip.

“We worked closely with the builder to remove clay and top soil to prepare the site and cart in metal.”

On wet days during the winter Phillip can be found in the workshop cleaning, greasing and servicing equipment.

“We spend a lot of time making sure the gear is ready for spring to minimise breakdowns during the busy period,” he said.

As the days get longer and the weather warms up, Phillip will be spending more time in a tractor cab.

“I could start the day spraying or drilling, then by mid-morning be towing a loader wagon picking up grass silage,” he said.

Last spring’s record rainfall made conditions challenging for farmers and contractors.

“We tried to roll paddocks before they got too dry, but a lot of the ground was still pugged and bumpy,” he said.

“It was really rough on the gear and meant some jobs took a bit longer because we couldn’t go as fast.”

Phillip grew up on a dairy farm in Taranaki. He spent six seasons working in the dairy sector after leaving Stratford High School.

It was a love of tractors that saw him transition into a role where he was harvesting food for cows instead of milking them.

He spent four years working for an agricultural contractor based in Stratford. During that time he travelled overseas.

Between April and July last year Phillip worked on a 5,500 hectare sheep and cropping farm near Esperance in Western Australia.

He planted wheat and canola.

“I loved it. I drove a massive 500 horsepower John Deere with an 18 metre seed bar,” he said.

“To put it into perspective, the biggest drill I pull in Taranaki is 5.2 metres wide.”

“It was all very big machinery. The sprayer I used was self-propelled and it had a 36 metre wide boom,” he recalls.

But the machinery matched the scale of the landscape.

In Western Australia Phillip was working in 1,000 hectare paddocks. The biggest he’s seen in Taranaki is 28 hectares, with the average size being three to eight hectares.

“It’s vital you are hungry to learn, especially when it comes to technology,” he said.

“Auto steering isn’t widely used in Taranaki, but it is in Australia and the United States. It’s handy when a run can be half an hour long.”

Phillip spent eight months in the United States in 2016.

“I didn’t want to stay in New Zealand for the winter so I Googled ‘harvesting jobs in America’,” he laughed.

“It’s unreal how easy it is. They help you get a visa and you jump on a plane and head over there.”

Phillip harvested wheat and corn. He was based in Kansas, travelled down to Texas and then back up to North Dakota.

“It was amazing. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

“My boss who was in his early 60s often said I’d seen more of his country in six months than he had in his entire life,” he said.

“I got to drive some of the latest machinery and made some life-long friends,” he said.

Agricultural contracting is a career that has enabled Phillip to explore more of his own backyard and travel.

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