Five Massey Ferguson tractors have joined the fleet at Freestyle Farms Ltd in Upper Moutere this year.
Five at once is a big decision. Freestyle Farms general manager Sean Riley says when he analysed why he was not meeting his targets, he could see it was because his tractors had too much downtime.
With a bit of research and advice from neighbours and family, he decided that Massey Ferguson was the solution. Now Freestyle Farms is the owner of three MF 3640 orchard tractors, one of which is a cab, an MF 3708 orchard tractor with big wheels and a front-end loader, and a MF 5713 S.
Freestyle Farms grows 119 ha of hops. Business is growing in every sense. The farm is expanding and cultivating more ground for more hops, but also hope grow at a phenomenal rate.
The way hop farming works is, in September, orchard workers begin to train the best of the young vines that grow from rhizomes up coir strings, and then in February they start harvesting the 4.8m long vines.
With growth that rapid you can see why Sean needed reliable tractors.
Sean says one of the MF 3640 tractors is a MF 3640 V model with a cab and is used to spread fertiliser and foliage sprays. The other two are ROPS "grafters" that do whatever work is going - cultivation, discing or mowing. They also run winches to lay wires for the new hop garden and put down irrigation.
All of the MF 3640 tractors are 85 hp with a three-cylinder AGCO Power engine and are 1.3m wide, so they easily fit down the 2.75m hops rows.
"I like the layout of the controls. It makes handling easier and there is more control over the three-point linkage," Sean says.
"They are also manoeuvrable and smooth to operate. The air cushioned seat is great, I love it."
The MF 3708 spreads bulk fertiliser from a hopper on the back. It is also 85 hp, but has a four-cylinder engine. Its significant different from the MF 3640 is the higher hydraulic oil flow (120 l/min) which is needed for the fertiliser spreader. It also does some groundbreaking and ripping in winter.
The MF 5713 S is 130 hp which has an MF front-end loader and its job is to carry a top cutter, requiring the extra power and weight. The top cutter reaches 4.8m up to the top of the vines and cuts it from the supporting wire and a bottom cutter runs in front of it to cut the base of the vine.
The vine's flowers are the actual hopes, so once the vine is on the ground, it is carted inside where the flowers are stripped off.
Freestyle Hops is only one of two hops growers outside of NZ Hops, the hops grower co-operative. It sells directly to craft beer brewers. Most of its crop is exported, but a small amount goes to Kiwi brewers.
"New Zealand hops are unique. We don't use insecticides. Instead we use predator insects to deal with the mites. And we grow unique aromatic varieties. The rest of the world struggles to produce the good aromas that we can produce with our local varieties," Sean says.
Freestyle Farms employs both locals and 10 Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers from Vanuatu. Therefore another huge advantage of the Massey Ferguson tractors is they are easy to use. People who have never driven a tractor before can quickly get the hang of them and safely do the task required.
"They are so easy to operate and they are not over the top in terms of electronics. They have plenty of horsepower and plenty of options in regards to widths and wheel sizes."
Sean says when he was driving in Australia, if a tractor was left out overnight in the rain, starting it again in the morning could be diabolical.
"You couldn't get them wet. But we can leave these Massey Fergusons out in the rain and they still go in the morning.
"They are also fuel efficient. Our monthly fuel bill is a quarter less than before."
He bought the tractors from Tractor Repair and Spares in Richmond. The sales agent there is John Mehrtens.
"John is great. We don't usually ring now, we just text when we are looking for bits and pieces. They remind us when servicing is due and come out and do it.
There are never any issues. They are on it, especially during harvest. That is our high pressure time, when everything has to work."
Sean is considering buying two more tractors next season. Then the fleet will be complete, at least for the time being.
"With a crop that grows so fast, you have to get everything done on time. We can't afford downtime. That is why we have Massey Ferguson."