What started with a single tractor shared among farming friends is now, 25 years later, one of Taranaki’s largest agricultural contracting business.
When Mike Silson was 14 a typical day included school and then heading to help his dad John with his contracting business. Mike went on to become a fully-qualified car painter but eventually went back to what he knew best – working in the Taranaki country-side.
“We didn’t realise how much time we were spending on our manual systems until we put the TracMap system in place, invoicing is so much easier for me now.”
– Claire ‘Charlie’ Silson, Owner/Director Riverlea Contractors
Today his business, Riverlea Contractors, operates more than 16 tractors and trucks, as well as two self-propelled aircraft.
Mike and wife Charlie have grown the business together and say that logistics of managing multiple jobs, vehicles and people can be a real challenge, “You’ve just got to be on top of things, otherwise it could all fall apart. We use smart technology to help us be very well organised. We’ve been working with TracMap since 2013 and would struggle to be without it now.”
In peak season, Mike and Charlie can have up to 21 staff operating at night and day to get the work done, “It’s not uncommon that I knock off around 5.30 p.m. and one of our team jumps in my vehicle and continues late into the night. As they say, ‘you need to make hay when the sun shines’ and, with the business being so dependent on weather conditions, we can’t afford to miss any opportunity,” Mike says.
Riverlea has equipped all of its vehicles with TracMap GPS display units that link to the cloud-based task management and reporting system TracMap Online, “With the TracMap system, Mike can easily get back to the job early in the morning and see exactly where our worker left off last night and pick up that point,” Charlie says.
“We have multiple staff and the visibility system gives our operation is fantastic. It eliminates the room for error.”
Initially, the Silson’s were concerned about how easy the TracMap system would be to use and whether some of their older drivers would be able to pick it up, not to mention the initial cost. However, Charlie says it was surprising how easy staff found it. “While the younger guys did take it more quickly, they were a great support to the older fellas.”
One of the greatest benefits to Riverlea Contractors is simply being able to ensure the right guy is in the right place, doing the right job, “We have lots of seasonal workers coming from overseas to help us out during the busy times, and at least half of them are new every year. With the TracMap system in every vehicle, we can guarantee that the guys are in the right paddock, at the right time, doing the right job. The last thing we need is a paddock being cultivated when it needs to be treated.”
“We can also map all of the hazards in advance, so whether the driver is new to the farm or not, they can be safe and they shouldn’t do any damage to our farm machinery. Tractors don’t come cheap and we can’t afford for equipment to be out of action when we’re busy.”
The ability to upload data instantly also gives time savings and better accuracy. TracMap area manager Douglas Carr says “whatever comes out the back of a tractor, goes straight back to the office as data, saving drivers the hassle of having to record everything they do, and ensuring that Charlie doesn’t need to waste time trying to decipher the drivers scrawl.”
This accuracy ensures nothing is missed and invoicing can be clearly outlined for both contractors and the customer, “We didn’t realise how much time we were spending on our manual systems until we put the TracMap system in place, invoicing is so much easier for me now,” Charlie says.
The Silsons found that the live tracking feature allowed them to monitor and improve driver skills, by reviewing their jobs online and advising them of better ways to track a paddock, “The assistance in training has been magic. I can see if the boys are going too fast or talk them through better routes to get the job done. It saves me so much time and means our customers are always getting quality services, even when the seasonal staff changes,” Mike says.
“We always know where all the guys in the field are, so it is easier to make last minute changes if necessary.”
With changes in compliance in the dairy sector, it is an advantage to be able to track and report on placement for customers, especially in relation to effluent. “We can make it easier for them to be compliant and, in some cases, assist in their pasture management decisions by providing great history records from their TracMap Online account,” she says.
The biggest change to their business in recent years is that up to 80 per cent of their farmer customers are no longer actually on-farm. Getting clear and correct instructions from the farmer is therefore vital. With a GPS- based mapping system for order placement, they can be assured of that security.
“The technology advancements in farming today are incredible and it definitely makes a difference to the way we run and manage our business. We just wouldn’t be without our TracMap system now.”
This story originally was published in Rural Contractor magazine, June 2015.