Small window of opportunity

By Country News on January 20, 2016
  • Small window of opportunity

    The pressure is on Damien Elliott and fellow contractors in the spring.

  • Small window of opportunity
  • Small window of opportunity

Like taxi drivers, there are always plenty of hay and silage contractors around when you don’t need one, but they’re hard to find when you’re desperate.

The contracting equivalent to late Saturday night outside a city pub is mid spring, when the paddocks are dry enough to get onto and the grass is growing like a teenage boy.

Damien Elliott has been behind the tractor wheel for most of his working life and understands that when one person wants him, everyone else does too.

“As soon as everyone hears the weather report that it’s going to be right to go, my phone will just go crazy. Everyone wants the same thing on the same day,” he said.

“When they see fine weather coming, they all want the grass off to try and get some regrowth while they still have the conditions to grow grass.  It gets pretty full on some days.”

He’s not complaining, mind you. If a contractor’s phone isn’t red hot in spring then he’s probably not too good at the job.

Hailing from Shady Creek just north of Warragul, Mr Elliott doesn’t travel more than 30km away from his home base.

He concentrates on dairy farmers, believing their level of professionalism allows him to do his job with the surety of a cashable cheque at the end.

Small land holders and part-time farmers offer plenty of work, they just don’t always want to pay for it.

“There is a market for smaller bales, except we found we were never getting paid for them, so we just avoid them now,” he said.

“We’ve just about weeded out all of that smaller side and stick with the dairy farmers now.”

The 36-year-old has two Welger round balers, including a combination baler, as well as a Massey Ferguson square baler which can produce eight foot long bales.

Demand is always high at this time of year, with long hours behind the wheel just part of life for a contractor in an area where grass often grows as fast it can be cut.

Mr Elliott won’t say what his record time in the tractor seat is, but in days before strict Worksafe regulations it was fair to say he mightn’t have always made it home for dinner – or even breakfast and lunch.

“Some days it’s really hard, you almost have to work around the clock to get it done,” he said.

“When you get a wet weather run like we have had for the last few days, you end up with a massive backlog where you have to try and fit four or five days’ work into two or three days to try and catch up again.”

Like the taxi industry, the peak-time pressure on contractors is evened out by the slower periods when demand is low.

Mr Elliott reckons there are enough contractors around to get the job done during busy times, as long as farmers are willing to have some understanding about the pressures they are under.

“Generally most of our clients will wait – they’ll give us a few days grace,” he said.

“We’ve just about got rid of all the blokes who don’t want to work with us. We are only human too, so if everyone can’t work together at that time of year, it makes it quite difficult.

“We need some sleep – we’re not robots.”

Apart from the weather, the biggest challenge during spring is machinery failure, which can cost time and money in a big way.

Mr Elliott believes that knowing your own equipment is the only way to keep costs down and keep the tractors moving through the paddocks.

“I do 90 per cent of my own repairs,” he said.

“If something goes wrong you can usually fix it, but if you don’t know the machines then you can’t. It’s often just a tweak here or there, but if you don’t know the machine you won’t know how to do that.”

By Country News on January 20, 2016

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