Contractor profile: Maple Construction & Agriculture

The success of a family ag contracting business in Hamilton relies on its compact fleet of machinery and ability to cater for smaller jobs

With tractor and machinery technology constantly evolving and a focus on upping efficiency and performance, the world of agricultural contracting is highly competitive. However, Drew and Samantha Cocker are proof that there’s still a place for the small-scale operator focusing on personal service and smaller jobs.

Drew Cocker has found a local ag contracting niche

The young couple are flat stick this season, baling and wrapping conventional bales on properties throughout the Waikato, sometimes even just a single paddock on a property.

It’s a busy niche, which requires enormous organisation skills, and this is where Sam comes in – as well as being a busy mum to Libby (3) and Boston (2), she coordinates all the jobs and plays an impressive role in reaching out to local spots advertising their services.

“A lot of the properties only have a paddock or two of grass and limited access. The big machinery simply can’t get in there, and the property owners just don’t know what to do with all of their long grass, which is where we come in.”

In just three years, the business (Maple Construction & Agriculture) has grown from a small Massey Ferguson 362 tractor, a PZ360 rake/tedder, and International 440 baler to boast more modern gear and a larger fleet.

While both Sam and Drew grew up in a rural setting, they set off down other career paths – Sam specialising in property management and Drew establishing himself as a carpenter and builder. After starting his own construction business and having purchased a lifestyle block, he soon realised there was a shortage of contractors willing to do small blocks with conventional bales.

Drew and Tim Cocker with the Massey tractors their business revolves around

Having purchased a small tractor and baler, it didn’t take long for word of mouth to grow, and before he knew it, Drew was in the ag contracting business. Fortunately, his dad Tim and mum Sylvia live nearby in Te Awamutu and with 20 years sharemilking under their belt, are no strangers to farm machinery.

Tim can often be found on jobs with Drew, the pair operating smoothly together, with Tim’s years as a farmer proving handy when it comes to the practical side of things. Drew is chief operator, maintenance man, and general fixer-upper.

Growing fleet

The Maple Agriculture fleet is small but highly efficient, headed up by two Massey Ferguson tractors – a 5450 4WD and 6445 2WD – along with a SIP Opticut 300 mower, Case IH baler, Kverneland tedder, Kuhn twin rotor rake, and Ingra conventional bale wrapper – a relatively rare piece of kit.

“We’ve just steadily upgraded our gear each season since starting out three years ago,” says Drew, “but we still need to keep everything as compact as we can, as a lot of the properties have small narrow entranceways, tight gateways, and small paddocks. Anything bigger than what we’ve got probably wouldn’t fit.

The Kuhn GA6501 Twin Rotor Rake offers adjustable working widths

“The Inagra bale wrapper has been a great asset to the business, with a high output per hour, which suits our needs. It’s hard to find a wrapper aimed at smaller bales but this is definitely our core business – conventional bales are much easier for most of our clients to manage.

“Operating at full steam, and depending on the grass, we can churn out 400 to 500 bales a day. That’s us going full bore though and that’s a big day.

“We’re only 100hp and some of those larger contractors are operating with much bigger gear – often their smallest tractor is 201hp – and it’s just too big to get into these smaller properties. A lot of these places have small driveways, gateways, and paddocks.

“We had one the other day so tight that we had to use the hydraulic slew and steer the baler into the paddock just to get it in.

“We’ve tried to be set up so that we can say yes to the jobs that most of the others say no to. We also probably have about 30 acres of grass that people don’t want, and a lease block, and we’ll bale it and sell it.”

When it comes to a crew to pick up bales, there’s no extra help. That labour-intensive task falls to Drew and Sam.

Like anything relating to agriculture, the hours are long and hard, but Drew reckons the time he gets to spend with his family in the offseason makes up for the excessive peak season hours.

Versatile workers

While the hay and baleage season is seasonal, the remainder of the year is spent focusing on his original business Maple Construction, which specialises in shed building.
Drew has a full-time gang of shed builders, while he diverts off himself for November and December to do ag contracting for a few months, before getting back to shed building.

Drew and his dad Tim work long hours together during baling season

Drew and his team also help set up the Central Districts Field Days – everything from spreading bark to setting up tents. They also are involved with set up at National Agricultural Field Days® at Mystery Creek Events Centre and spent almost two and a half months helping with site set-up in 2021.

“It’s just about ensuring that the tractors and other gear we’ve invested in are being used year-round and not just for the hay side of things.”

Rural beginnings

“I’ve done beef and sheep farming and dairy farming before heading off to do a building apprenticeship. We started to get back into the rural side of things when we bought a lifestyle block between Hamilton and Cambridge, and now work full-time in that space.”

While shed building and ag contracting are the main components of his business, Drew also turns his hand to carpentry, home finishing, and maintenance. He also carries out paddock contouring, regrassing, and drive grading.

Operating under Drew’s business name Maple Construction & Agriculture

“We can pretty much turn our hand to most things and with the growth of so many lifestyle properties, with people who have never really had any experience of owning or maintaining a property, there’s definitely a need for a wide variety of services.

“While it’s tempting to keep growing the business, and the demand is there, I do want to keep serving this market of smaller properties.

Find new and used farm machinery for sale in NZ 

Photography: Lisa Potter

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