Oamaru contractor Nick Hyslop is keen to remain a one-man spreading operation to keep a lid on his stress levels and give him more time with his young family.

“It was pretty easy to get the hang of it. I run a TracMap and Whitehead spreader control system, which is quite simple.”

– Nick Hyslop, Hyslop Groundspread LTD

Nick and his wife Rosalie have been running Hyslop Groundspread Limited for the past three and-a-half years and really like being a small operation.

Nick grew up in Oamaru and says contracting is in his blood. His father Ray drove spreaders since he was a young man. “My great grandad had a contracting transport business in Outram, my grandad did spreaders there for quite a few years and my dad now drives them in Canberra,” he says.

“I managed spreaders for Ravensdown for four years. They had a spreading operation here in Oamaru, and I was driving them before that. The time was right for us to do our own thing so I leased a small Hino truck off Wynyard Transport in Milton for two months.”

Nick and Rosalie then bought an old Mercedes truck from Brooks Spreading in Nelson which Nick drove for 18-months, “It was quite worn out but it got me started. I then bought the Scania that I’ve got now, which I’ve had for about two years,” he says.

“I’ve just got the one truck, which keeps it simple and allows us to have a simple business model. The business has doubled in size since the first season we started but I’m trying to keep it in a manageable state so I don’t have to expand. I don’t want to get more than one truck and I’ve got no plans to do that.” Nick brought a lot of clients with him when he left Ravensdown and gained new clients quickly through his reputation for quality work, “Being a local boy helped, a lot of people like to support locals. Then it was just word of mouth and picking up new clients.”

Nick mainly spreads fertiliser, including lime, superphosphate and nitrogen. He also does the different odd jobs, such as spreading grit, and he once spread 500 tonnes of sand over a local racecourse, “If it can come out the back of a spreader I’ll give it a go,” he says. Nick works closely with each client to determine what fertiliser should be spread and listens to the recommendations of fertiliser companies. He offers advice if the farmer asks for it.

His season starts in August when cropping farmers are busy planting. “It carries through until December then quietens off for a couple of months through summer. It then picks up again about March-April and then starts to peter off in May. From May to July can be quiet but it depends on the weather.

During the quiet months I do a bit of maintenance and spend time with the family. We’ve got a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy. When it’s busy I don’t really see them at all. If the weather is right I work long hours.”

Hyslop Groundspread is based from North Otago Truck Repairs in Weston Road, Waiareka Junction, “Lydon and Rachel were a huge support when I was going out on my own. I use their yard as a depot. They do a lot of my maintenance and I use their workshop but for any of the big stuff they’ll give me a hand. As a solo operator, these guys are my daily contact – my work mates.”

Nick’s Scania is a 340hp 4×4 with a 10-tonne Transpread side tipper. “It’s a very simple trailer to use and I probably won’t upgrade the truck for a couple of years. We’ll try to get a bit more financially secure and then hopefully I’ll put on a new truck and bin in a couple of years. We’ll probably go for the same size as they’re top of the line in the 4×4,” he says.
“I like the Scania. I was a bit dubious when I got it as I’d never driven one before but once I got used to it it’s pretty good and reliable.”

Hyslop Groundspread operates within a 60km radius of Oamaru. Nick’s clients are a mix of cropping, dairy and sheep and beef farmers, and he says this is a nice balance.
“About half my client base is sheep and beef but it’s only a third of my work, as they don’t put much fert on. I do all the nitrogen and capital fertiliser for the dairy farmers, and I am on some farms once a week. Then the cropping guys are going full noise when they are sowing. We put a bit of lime on beforehand but once their crops are in we don’t see them for a few months.”

“The dairy guys are more constant. There is always nitrogen going onto their farms.” Nick says the potential overuse of nitrogen hasn’t become a real issue for him or his clients yet.
“It’s just about making sure you’re doing everything right. I’m Spreadmark certified and I run GPS with proof-of-paddock mapping. Not a lot of my clients are requesting it yet but you have to be ready and it’s handy to have it there at your fingertips. I do it on every job.”

Technology within the spreading industry is changing quickly and Nick is making sure he keeps up with developments., “The first truck I ever drove had no GPS or hydraulics but now everything is computer controlled. This season I got into my variable-rate spreading after my largest cropping client asked for it,” he says.

“I had to bite the bullet and put that in my truck but I have picked up a couple of new clients just through having it. Variable rate spreading was a huge change, as you drive around the paddock and a computer and GPS does it all for you.”

“It was pretty easy to get the hang of it. I run a TracMap and Whitehead spreader control system, which is quite simple.”

“When I put it in it had only just been developed. They spent a bit of time with me to make sure I was doing it right but once you put the variable rate system in, you just drive around the paddock.”

While Nick is feeling positive about the variable-rate spreading and the benefits it will offer, he says it’s too early to see the results, “I only just started this season so I haven’t had a chance to see the major results. It will take three or four years to see it come through. But it was amazing that in a large 40 or 50 hectare paddock there could be a variation of lime rates from zero up to 10 tonnes per hectare. It was quite huge.”

One of Nick’s larger customers did his own test regarding variable rate in the paddock and worked out he was saving $10,000 of fertiliser over one large paddock, “I haven’t sat down with the guy yet to talk about it but he seems really happy so far.”

However, Nick has no plans to push the variable-rate spreading with clients at this stage.
“I’m busy enough. I’ve picked up work because people have heard that I have got it. I am not advertising it yet but a lot of spreader operators have got it already. In another few years it will probably become the norm and every spreader will have proof of location, variable rate and boundary control,” he says.

“You have to have everything in place with the environment and if you’re in front of it, it makes easier.”

Nick says the dairy payout is creating some uncertainty about the next couple of years.
“No one is really sure where it’s going. Dairy farmers will still have to put fertiliser on but how they do it is the big question. Some farms I’ve been on have done full farm testing for variable rate. That could become very hard work and very confusing, following the maps with every paddock and different brews.”

However, this season has been particularly good after a lot of flooding last year that resulted in the delay of a large amount of autumn work, “Things were chaotic in spring. Then it was very dry here through summer so it got very quiet but we’ve had some rain now and everyone seems pretty positive. Going forward we hope we’ll get enough work to go through winter and spring and then we’ll do it all again next season.”

Rosalie does all the office work for Hyslop Groundspread, which Nick is enjoying operating on his own., “I’m happy with the size of the business and the way it’s going, especially with having a young family. The less stress the better. If I have to put on another truck further down the track I’ll look at it, but I’m not going to actively go out looking for it,” he says.

“When I’m flat out and working 100-plus hours a week I think another truck would be good, but in another month I might do only a week’s work in a month, and I’m glad I don’t have another guy standing around. Be4ing a one-man operation allows me to guarantee my clients a high level of service. They ring me, I turn up – it’s consistent.”

This article originally appeared in Rural Contractor and Large Scale Farmer Magazine July 2015.