Profile: Jordaan Contracting Ltd

Starting up a rural contracting business in a competitive market, in a strange country and with no money to fund it, doesn’t seem like a fast track to success.

However, that very situation was the challenge that South African-born Japie Jordaan took on in the Bay of Plenty in 2008.
Part of the JCL harvesting fleet with the Claas Jaguar 950 in action chopping maize 

Japie managed to overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds, establishing Te Puke-based Jordaan Contracting Ltd (JCL), which has gone on to become one of Bay of Plenty’s largest and most successful contracting businesses.

The JCL yard is based at Paengaroa, near Tauranga

Born and raised in the Free State Province in central South Africa, Japie and his wife Heidi ran a 650-hectare family farm, cropping wheat, sunflower, and maize, along with sheep and cattle dry stock.

They also had a contracting business that Japie started soon after leaving high school, which was running six John Deere combine harvesters. However, in 2001 they sold everything and moved to New Zealand, a decision that arose for family reasons and the worsening situation of South Africa.

“My in-laws emigrated to New Zealand in 1998, and we decided to follow them because we felt New Zealand was a safer place for the family,” Japie says.

“South Africa was going backwards, so we made the big and difficult decision to sell everything and follow the in-laws to New Zealand.”

While his in-laws settled in Golden Bay where they were teaching at a local school, Japie and Heidi took on a position managing a large dry stock farm at Dargaville before moving into dairy as herd managers in Stratford.

Japie quickly realised that cows weren’t his thing and tried building for a year before his love of tractors and machinery won out. In 2004, he took up a position as operations manager for a Te Puke contractor. Fortuitously, Heidi’s parents also made the move to the Bay of Plenty, which was an added bonus.

Starting out

Working for wages was not a lifestyle that Japie enjoyed, so four years later, in 2008, he made the decision to go out on his own as a rural contractor, even though he wasn’t in what would be considered to be the best financial position to do so.

“I’ve always been my own boss. One of the reasons for that is that it allows me to operate my own business with the challenge of expanding it,” he says.

“It wasn’t easy, because I had no equity – basically, we had nothing when we came to New Zealand.

“We had sold the farm in South Africa, but we’d only been on that for about a year, and we sold it for the same money we’d paid for it, so we made nothing on it.

“The hard part was to get a bank to support me. A friend from overseas helped me with a deposit, and finally, BNZ and UDC supported me, and we were able to buy a John Deere 6920 tractor, a four row John Deere 7000 maize planter, and some cultivation gear, and we were able to get started with some maize down in Gisborne for a Tauranga-based farmer.”

Twelve months later, things were on the move in the Te Puke area, so a bailer and rake were added to the fleet and JCL began making silage and growing maize that was sold to local farmers.

At that stage – around 2009 – there were two main contractors in the Te Puke district, which Japie says made it easier for him to get the business established. “It wasn’t too hard to get into it because with just the two contractors, pricing was quite up there, and with us coming in as a third one, pricing got a bit more competitive,” he says.

“I think that’s why I got such good support from the farmers because the pricing was getting a bit too high. It has been quite good since then – things have grown steadily.”

The fleet

About half the JCL tractor fleet is leased, but the firm still needs its own workshop 

A tour of the JCL yard in Paengaroa – 10km east of Te Puke and 30km southeast of Tauranga – confirms the growth, with no fewer than 15 tractors and a huge array of machinery.

The tractor fleet has eight Case IH machines (four Puma 220s, a Puma 165, a Puma 195, a Puma 240, and a Maxxum 140), five John Deere (a 6125M with loader, two 6195Ms, a 6830 and a 7230 R), one Fendt 824, and one New Holland T7210.

Two tractors are full time on trailer work at a civil construction development in Tauranga, which provides a steady workflow during winter when agricultural work slows down.
Japie admits he’s “a John Deere man” but says there’s little difference between Case IH and John Deere.

“I’ve always liked John Deere,” he says, “but tractors are very reliable these days, and we’ve had a good run out of the Case tractors. I lease about 50% of the fleet and own the rest. If I buy them, the thing I look for is reliability.”

Case IH Puma 220 tractor with LB 333 square baler, and John Deere supporting gear

The benefit of leasing tractors and machinery such as balers offers better budgeting for the year without unforeseeable costs such as breakdowns.

“We have full maintenance contracts on two of our balers, so we pay a certain amount per bale and the dealers do a full maintenance on them and cover any breakdowns.

That’s working pretty well because it means we know what a baler is going to cost, and if something major breaks down, then it’s on the dealer. Same with the lease tractors – we know that there’s no extra cost involved.

“It costs us a bit more to lease them because you don’t have equity at the end of the term, but we don’t have the massive bills if an engine or gearbox blows either. The level of service we get is good. If something happens, you give them a call, and sometimes they’re a bit busy, but they usually try and get out straight away.”

When it comes to adding machines to the fleet, Japie shops around for the best deal. Giltrap is the main supplier of his Case IH tractors, John Deere comes from Cervus Equipment Ltd in Te Puke, the Fendt came from Waikato Tractors, and the New Holland from TMH Tractor and Machinery Hire in Waverly.

JCL’s Goweil G1 5040 combi baler wrappers in action; two of the four balers in the fleet. Baling makes up about 30% of JCL’s work.

Baling makes up about 30% of the businesses work, and grass harvesting gear includes a Case LB 333 square baler, a Feraboli 265 round baler, two Goweil G1 5040 Combi baler/wrappers, and a Goweil G4 020 bale wrapper. There are four Claas Liner hay rakes, four Claas mowers, and an assortment of Rata, Hustler, and Goweil bale handlers.

Harvesting grass silage with JCL’s Claas Jaguar 950 

Silage gear includes a Claas Jaguar 950 harvester bought second-hand two years ago, a Budissa Ag Bagger G7000, and two Bergmann loader wagons (a Shuttle 390K and a Repex 30K).

JCL operates four Claas Liner hay rakes

The round balers and loader wagons came from Webbline Agriculture in Hamilton.
Feed supplement sales – bales and grass silage – has been an integral part of the business since it began and continues to provide a healthy income.

JCL has two Bergmann loader wagons, a Shuttle 390K, and a Repex 30K

Japie says in the last year alone, seven or eight dairy farms in the area have been converted to kiwifruit, which means less work for his business and having to look further abroad for work, which can sometimes become uneconomic because of the travel involved.
Getting more involved in kiwifruit work is an option under consideration, but that would mean a much different range of equipment and smaller tractors.

The Duncan roller seed drill, with Taege 3m tyre roller

Despite the changing land use, maize and cropping still make up about a third of the business, which means there’s a need for a range of cultivation gear. That includes an Amazone EDX 6000 TC maize planter and a John Deere 1750 planter, a Taege Tyre 3M roller, a Maschio Gaspardo seed drill, a Duncan roll seeder, Kuhn speed drill, a three-metre and a five-metre Kuhn power harrow, 4AG discs, and a Kverneland ripper.

Amazone EDX 6000 TC maize planter in action. Despite changing land use in the Bay of Plenty, maize and cropping still makes up about a third of JCL’s business.

Trailer work, earthmoving, and digger work are other developing areas of the firm’s business, which Japie says offer opportunities for further growth, especially in suburban developments in Tauranga and in the development of kiwifruit orchards where there’s often a need to contour the land.

With a large rise in kiwifruit orchards and subdivision developments, JCL’s fleet of Herron trailers is kept busy

One of  the difficulties Japie faces in trying to develop this opportunity is the shortage of experienced drivers, an ongoing issue that has affected all aspects of the business, as it does most other similar operations.

The team

2IC Roger Blackburn with JCL Contracting founder Japie Jordan  

Currently, Jordaan Contracting Ltd employs 15 operators – five full-timers and 10 seasonal staff – along with two office administrators. Japie says trying to find capable operators is a real problem.

“If we can’t get the staff, we have tractors and gear parked up in the yard, even though we have work for them,” he says.

“That happened at the beginning of the season when we had five tractors sitting here in the yard even though we had work for them, but we couldn’t do anything.

That means we’re losing money – we have to pay for them, but we can’t use them – and the farmers want the work done, but we have to tell them that we can’t get there.” Like many other agricultural contractors, Japie depends on seasonal workers from the UK who do a season there, then head to New Zealand for the silage season.

This year (at the time of writing), his top operator who has been with him for three seasons was stranded in Ireland because he wasn’t able to get his work visa, despite the fact that in the previous three seasons, there had been no issues with him getting a visa.

“Every other year it has been no problem so this makes it really hard for us because we rely on him getting here – he’s our top driver, and if he can’t get here, it makes the whole operation extremely difficult for us,” Japie says.

“The overseas drivers are good because they’re very experienced and really know what they’re doing. They’re good operators. Currently, we have two from Ireland and two from England here now, including a female driver who’s extremely capable and experienced.”

Japie’s experience with employing Kiwis is another common story – it’s hard to get them, they don’t want to do the hours, they don’t have the necessary skills, and when they do get the skills, they move on and then there’s the need to train someone else. He believes good staff is a key ingredient for success, and he’s not averse to hiring women operators if they’ve got the capability and experience.

Jordaan Contracting Ltd is a registered contractor with Rural Contractors New Zealand, and Japie is grateful for the work the organisation does at a government level to try and solve issues.

“It’s a very valuable thing to belong to, and we find they’re very helpful in many areas, from staff and employment, to things like Health and Safety and traffic regulations,” he says. “If you have issues with any of that, you can always call them, and they’re always very helpful.”

The company is also a Growsafe registered chemical applicator. Japie says over the years, he has had tremendous support from the local farming community who have been helpful in establishing the business.

“The thing is, I can’t run the business without the support of farmers,” he says “I’m really thankful to them for their support. I try to do a good job for them – to be reliable and honest. We always try our best.” Japie’s wife, Heidi, is a partner in the business but doesn’t work in the enterprise, following her own career as a respected pharmacy technician working in Tauranga.

The couple have two children, daughter Jemima (15) and son Ruben (13), and while modern legislation largely prevents youngsters becoming too involved in the operation of machinery and vehicles, Ruben does like to get involved during his school holidays. Japie looks forward to the future when Ruben will take over the company and continue what he has started.

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