Contractor profile: Northland vegetation control

By: Vivienne Haldane, Photography by: Jessica Jellick Photography

Transforming properties plagued by weeds is all in a days work for the team at Northland Vegetation Control

Spraying maize for post-emergence in spring

With 30 years of weed control under their belt, it’s fair to say the NVC team knows exactly what they’re doing. And keen to continue growing their business, they have diversified into tree planting.

Chance and Rochelle Campbell, who own Northland Vegetation Control, say it’s a development that complements what they already do. The poplar pole planting and riparian planting during the autumn and winter months ensure they can retain their valuable staff year-round.

The business covers a massive territory, from Wellsford to Cape Reinga, across various land uses, including agricultural, lifestyle blocks, forests, council land, and everything in between.

NVC has a team of highly skilled staff

Northland’s warm climate ensures there’s never any shortage of weeds to control.

"You name it, we have it here," says Chance. "Gorse, tobacco weed, pampas grass, privet, wild ginger, blackberry, Taiwanese cherry, carrot weed, etc."

Business growth

NVC, based in Hikurangi, just north of Whangarei, has been operating for 30 years, and Chance’s family have had a long association with it. When the company was owned by Geoff Crawford, Chance worked on the team as a weed sprayer, before completing his linesman training at North Power.

Chance’s father, Richard Campbell, bought the company in 2012 and ran it until he passed away in 2018.  

Chance and Rochelle took over ownership the same year, moved it to Hikurangi, and have been successfully developing it since.

A bird’s eye-view of the NVC fleet

The couple and their three children, Mackenzie, Finn, and Marlow, live on a four-hectare lifestyle block in Towai, 15 minutes north of Hikurangi.

"It’s a small rural community with just a pub and petrol station, but to me, it’s home," says Rochelle, who grew up on a farm there before moving to Whangarei for a while to train and work as a children’s nurse.

The demand for their services has meant NVC has grown substantially in four years.

"We find that we’re constantly busy, and I put that down to the fact we always aim to do an excellent job. It keeps people coming back."

Their work is not confined to Northland either; they’ve planted poplar and willow trees for Pamu Farms (Landcorp brand) for the past two winters, as far south as Levin and up to the East Cape.

"We’re prepared to go wherever the work is," says Rochelle.

Jesse checks the boom nozzles

They’ve expanded from four to 11 trucks and from two to 12 employees.

"When we took over NVC, we only did spraying. Then we added the extra services: pole planting, riparian planting, forestry spraying and now forest restoration and maintenance," says Chance.

Part of the expansion is down to NVC securing contracts and jobs with large corporations such as Pamu Farms, the Department of Conservation (DOC), North Power, and district councils: Whangarei District Council, Northland Regional Council and Kaipara District Council.

"We’re currently maintaining 15–20 council parks, have forest regeneration contracts, plus roadside spraying contracts for three forestry management companies. We maintain forestry roads from Woodhill to Cape Reinga. Last year, we pasture-sprayed 200 lifestyle blocks and increased the agricultural gun spraying and boom spraying operation.

The right gear for the job

Having the right gear is vital, so NVC has steadily upgraded and added new vehicles and equipment.

"All our trucks, except for one Mitsubishi Canter, are Toyota. We’ve chosen them for their reliability as a work vehicle; they also hold their value, and we receive excellent back-up service from Northland Toyota.

Mitsubishi Canter with boom spraying unit

"We’ve still got an original Toyota Landcruiser, which has been part of the company since 2005 and is still going strong."

Then there are two boom trucks with 12-metre booms, a forestry road spraying truck, a lifestyle boom spraying truck and five gorse spraying utes with twin electric reels, a council maintenance ute, and a vehicle that holds all the knapsack and brush cutting gear.

"When we’re planting, we strip the spray gear off the utes ready for the planting season," says Chance.

"During planting season, we’ve got two Polaris Rangers, plus two trailers to cart the poles and plants on. We also have two different size pole rammers made specifically for us out of lighter material, which makes ramming the poles in easier.

Rochelle and Chance with their children, Finn, Mackenzie, and Marlow

"We enjoy planting trees and giving back to the environment rather than just killing weeds all the time."

As the business has grown, so too has the paperwork side of things, and while Rochelle used to enjoy being able to get out and help with riparian planting, now the office is just too busy, so she spends most of her time doing administration and with the children.

NVC sources some of the plants directly for tree planting projects.

"We like to work in with and support local nurseries rather than bulk plant suppliers,"
she says.

GPS tracking is used extensively for DOC and forestry assignments.

"We work with GPS in some DOC reserves to track where weeds are and make a plan to clean them out. If we have a week of bad weather, we often do GPS work for DOC sites or plant survival counts as well as prune poplar trees we’ve planted during winter, marking them on Avenza maps as we go."

Riparian planting for Northland Regional Council

Experienced staff

The team of 12 are all highly skilled, with some specialists in their specific areas of work.

Chance’s brother, Trale Campbell, is the forestry specialist, so he works closely with the forestry companies spraying their tracks and skid sites.

"He uses GPS and records everything on Avenza map as he goes. He can mark where culverts are, damage to tracks, or if trees have fallen over. He then sends them via Avenza mapping back to the companies. They, in turn, send crews out to clean up the tracks; it’s important for the tracks to be clear for trucks and also for fire safety.

NVC started using Avenza Maps last year and Chance says that decision has made life so much easier.

"I’ve learned if you can make someone’s job easier, you are doing alright."

Trale and Jesse carry out riparian planting in a local waterway

Jesse Hampson, who has been with NVC for four years, does much of the Whangarei-based boom spraying. He’s also foreman of the poplar planting crew, who travel further afield each winter.

Mike Jay, who began working there last year has been in the spraying industry for about 35 years.

"He has a wealth of knowledge and does a lot of the Far North boom spraying."
Ngaire Lewis takes the lead on much of the council and forest restoration work.

"Our other guys are mostly involved in gun spraying and tree planting and are an equally important and an asset to our team," says Chance.

All NVC workers go through GrowSafe and First Aid training.

"They need to be knowledgeable about the different weeds and appropriate herbicides," says Rochelle.

Pole rammers made of lighter material ease the load

Chance manages the overall operation of NVC and is spending less time in the truck, though he admits it’s one of his favourite places to be, so it’s not done without a few regrets.

"We’re building some guys up to manage areas and take responsibility for their work. We’ve got skilled people on our team who make the job easier," he says.

Rochelle oversees accounts, payroll, and health and safety. She coordinates the overall structure of incoming work and the day-to-day running of NVC.

"I have a list of jobs and a booking timetable; we have a big whiteboard in the yard that I transfer jobs onto every Monday or Friday morning. The guys come in and have a health and safety meeting, get their jobs, and go off. We’ve also got a group messenger page.

"Although we’re increasing the technology we use for administration, it’s hard to find a scheduling programme that works for us as the weather plays havoc with my schedules. I do it manually, which works well for now and everyone can see what’s happening on the whiteboard."

Polaris Rangers are used for carting poles and plants

A challenging environment

That illustrates the fact that out in the field; Northland’s volatile weather is a constant battle as well.

Likewise, the terrain they cover can throw a curveball at the team.

"We go from spraying in sand dunes to spraying in volcanic to clay. We have every different soil type here. In winter, it’s very wet, so 4WD vehicles are essential," says Chance.

Belonging to RCNZ

NVC joined Rural Contractors NZ 18 months ago and are finding the organisation helpful.

"They supply us with loads of information, and it’s good to be part of the network. It helps to be able to communicate with other contractors who know what you’re living and breathing daily.

"RCNZ has an annual conference we hoped to get, but we were affected by COVID-19 lockdowns, so hopefully, we’ll make it to the next one. We’ve been to a few meetings, and they are very informative," says Rochelle.

Set for another day’s work

Rochelle and Chance recently took the opportunity to meet with a couple of spraying contractors while on holiday in the South Island.

"We visited these spray companies to chat and see what they do compared to Northland. They were most helpful. It’s about discovering what we can do differently to make our life easier," says Chance.

Adapting to change

Rochelle says the COVID-19 lockdowns have made things complicated.

"We were lucky to continue to work in Level 3. We don’t have contact with a lot of the customers, so they were able to send us a map of what they wanted us to do.

"When Level 4 came, it was cropping season, so we were classed as an essential service, which meant a couple of our vehicles could still work. So, it has been hard, but I think we’ve got off lightly compared to many other businesses. We can’t complain."

Future opportunities

NVC has recently bought a fertiliser spreader from Tow and Fert in Dannevirke. They see an opportunity to diversify in this area.

"They could be perfect for lifestyle blocks where it’s harder to get bigger vehicles onto a property, plus the fertiliser price keeps going up," says Chance.

"We’re currently mounting the spreader on the back of one of our trucks, and we’ll see how it goes."

Chance, who is originally from Akitio in Wairarapa, is happy with the way their business is evolving. It’s a lifestyle he enjoys immensely.

Polar poles ready for planting on Pamu Farms

"There aren’t many jobs with such a variety of unique locations," he says.

He regards their team as a close-knit unit.

"We treat all our workers like family and make it an enjoyable place to work. The key to having good staff is having happy ones."

Rochelle knows the importance of having downtime to recharge the batteries.

"I’m good at booking time away. We know it’s important; before COVID, we went to Rarotonga and Fiji. In May, we hired a caravan, and tiki toured around the South Island. Then we closed the company down from 23 December to 10 January, so everyone had a good break.

"That’s the first year we’ve done it. It feels good. It’s important to sit down and reflect, rather than always powering through."

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