NZ Dairy Summer 2021

92 | nzdairy RURAL SERVICES » Murray Free Contracting Ltd When the going gets tough the tough get going Sue Russell The day New Zealand Dairy spoke with Murray Free in September he described the weather simply by saying ‘It couldn’t be more challenging’. “We had 70mm Monday night, yesterday was sort of ok and today its pouring again. These are the constant challenges that come with being an agricultural contractor. The best thing to say is that we’re currently in a holding-pattern waiting for ground conditions to improve.” Based near Palmerston North, Murray and his team work mainly across the Southern Manawatu on up through to Bunnythorpe, offering a range of contracting services spanning the yearly cycle of on-farm activity. Working with Murray is two full-timers, Ben and Shaun, seasonal workers Lydon and Mike together with a couple of casuals who step in at the peak times. “My wife Lorraine looks after all the admin and pays the bills and keeps everything ticking along with clients, leaving me free to be out on the job with the team doing the work,” Murray says. Acquiring additional equipment, including a new forager and a new tractor, means that Murray can offer farmers a wide range of services, including ground work, mowing, raking, chopping, bagging, stacking to name a few. “Our core business is harvesting grass/maize and baling. I drive the forage harvester while Ben, who is my right hand man, operates the JCB on the stack. He has over 20 plus year’s experience and is one of the best in the business.” Asked whether the future plans are to grow much bigger, Murray says he is always looking to grow the business with new clients, but it will never be at the expense of doing a good job which is very important to him. “I am very lucky to have a team of guys who always give 110%. I would hate to have to rely on overseas workers, especially in this climate.” Normally by early September Murray and his team would be starting to do bailage, silage and early ploughing for maize. Then October brings an upping in activity with grass and silage bailage and doing ground work prep. Grass silage and bailage continue through November and December then overtaken in January and February by mostly hay. Through April and May it is mostly maize silage after which the team get a month off to recharge batteries. “Over the winter Ben, Shaun and myself work on servicing and cleaning the gear.” Repeat business accounts for 95% of work. Murray says there’s a good feeling to that because over time, great relationships and understandings form between himself and his farmer clients. “I might take this opportunity to thank our very loyal clients. We do appreciate you coming back year after year.” He’s also aware of just how important it is to deliver great service. “In this district, this is a very competitive sector. You’re looking at buying the very best gear you can afford while some in the industry can underpin your price by buying lesser quality cheaper equipment to use, but in the long-term this doesn’t pay off. Reliability is really important because once the season is underway, we’ve got to know our gear will hold up well.” And looking ahead Murray says there are concerns around finding the next generation of good keen young operator, passionate about working on really sophisticated machinery. “I think there’s a concern across the whole sector. A couple of my team have young children who seem to be indicating an interest in following in their fathers footsteps which is great to see.” Murray, who was brought up on a dairy farm, knew from a young age that he wanted to work with machinery. “I enjoyed the hay making as a youngster rather than milking the cows.” It’s also a job that leads to opportunities overseas, as is the case with Murray who worked several summers on machinery in the States. “I would be working on fields miles long and wide. For many years I had an endless summer, between working here and there and really enjoyed it. Gone are those days but I wouldn’t swap what I do, I simply love it.” Murray Free Contracting Ltd Murray drives the forage harvester while Ben (left) operates the JCB on the stack.