Profile: Sims Contractors Ltd

Sims Contractors Ltd of Otaki is a family business, with several generations of family members having contracted locally alongside their farming operations


Robert Sims is the first to acknowledge that it’s hard to determine which machinery in his yard is part of his contracting business and which fall under the ‘collection’ category.

“I’m a bit of a machinery collector,” he laughs. “I have 29 usable tractors plus spares, but we only require around seven or eight for the business.”

Sims Contractors Ltd of Otaki is a family business. Several generations of family members have contracted locally alongside their farming operations: Robert’s grandfather Ted started chopping silage in 1957, and in the past, Ted, wife June, and Robert’s uncle Jeff had a huge involvement in the business. Today, Robert’s father Gavin and uncle Brandan are involved daily and mother Deanne assists with administration.

A family legacy

Robert left formal education in 1994 to work for three independent family ventures: dairy farming, chicken farming, and agricultural contracting. 

Sims Contractors Ltd boasts a wide range of agricultural machinery on its fleet

“I believe keeping myself occupied was the secret,” he says.

Ted allowed Robert to have more organisational input for a few seasons and in 2003, Robert formed the company Sims Contractors Ltd and rapid growth began.

 “We’re still based on my grandfather’s dairy farm today, with Ted still having a say at 90,” Robert says.

In the beginning, they were mainly baling hay and chopping silage, but now the business does everything agricultural, from cultivation to mowing, spreading,
and harvesting, as well as a little bit of civil work.

“We have a wide range of John Deere tractors and run Claas harvesters, a JCB for stacking, two McHale Fusions, medium square and conventional balers, and all the necessary swathing/tedding equipment,” Robert says. “We have a bit of cultivation equipment and planters and seeders, too.

“We also have a triple mower and a Krone Big M with Groupers. We have six trucks in the system and a Unimog fertiliser truck, the only one of its kind in the country.”

The family business is based on Robert Sims’ grandfather’s farm

Nurturing talent

Sims Contractors Ltd has a core staff of three to four over the wet season and hires casuals at busier times of the year, gearing up to seven to eight permanent and casuals in peak time.

They also try to work with other local contractors to share resources.

Robert’s commitment to training young people entering the industry is paying off: not only does he have dedicated, competent staff, but two Sims Contractors Ltd staff members have also won industry accolades over the past two years.

In 2022, RCNZ launched the Rural Contractors NZ Awards to recognise excellence in contracting. Sims Contractors Ltd’s Mat Peart won the North Island Trainee of the Year title, winning a trophy and a training bursary of $3000 to be used to advance his career.

John Deere tractors are used year-round for a variety of tasks

He had been working with Robert for three years at that point.

Mat says he was nervous to face the panel of judges, made up of representatives from MPI and industry professionals, but they soon put him at ease with their relaxed style of discussion.

“The judges helped heaps to just make it more of a casual convo than me talking to a panel of judges,” Mat says. “I loved every minute of it.”

This year, Sims Contractors Ltd staff member Caleb Turner was runner-up in the competition, in which the two islands were combined into one national award. He won a $1000 travel prize sponsored by Tulloch Farm Machinery, Nufarm, and RCNZ.

“This was Caleb’s first season working for us, with a more than bumpy start,” Robert says.

“He’s grabbed every opportunity to be involved and learn the possibilities the agriculture sector has to offer as a career, and he will continue to grow a lot more, I’m sure.”

Robert says he has really got behind the awards because where possible he likes to encourage his employees.

“Our industry has a lot of hidden knowledge that needs to be passed on,” he says. “To have two young ones come out of the woodwork like this is great. And some of my past staff are almost part family and have established their own ventures which I’m proud to be part of.”


Robert says Mat and Caleb both had modest dairy farming backgrounds, which gave them an insight into the end user, which he believes helps with the importance of what rural contractors do.

“They always had an interest in agriculture,” he says.

“We’ve had other staff that we’ve employed straight from school, via the GATEWAY programme, and they’ve done well. However, our education system doesn’t seem to support young people moving into trades as much as it used to.”

A diverse approach

Robert says there’s an element of uniqueness in his business in that it’s very diverse for a small business.

The business services the wider Ōtaki region

“All staff have a lot of different things to have a go at,” Robert says. “They’re not just stuck on one job all the time. I tend to work on the group aspect, getting people working with different team members, because everyone has something to contribute.

“I’m all about working with the tools that are available, and although, of course, there are ways that I would prefer something to be done, I try to let the guys think for themselves a bit.”

Robert has a number of past employees who help him out when he’s stuck, some of whom joined him over COVID lockdowns when they couldn’t work in their regular jobs.

“I don’t like burning bridges,” he says. “I also don’t like breaking promises; with a small business, I would rather be too stretched than have too many staff on.”

Robert says during the lockdown period, the lack of traffic hold-ups on the road was magic.

Supporting and encouraging staff is part of the Sims Contractors ethos

“If they could organise a lockdown every busy season that would be great,” he laughs.
Robert says family time is important to him.

“Combining my passion for machinery with my two young daughters Anna and Ella, their pets, their dolls and accessories is a balancing act and breaks all the over-imposed, modern-day rules and regulations, but this is how I came into the agriculture industry,” he says.

“I often feel our overprotective cotton-wool approach with our children has created the main missing link for attracting young people into the workforce and agricultural sector.”

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