Matt Fryer: An Agricultural Contractor for Life
Fryer Ag Contracting
Matt Fryer’s interests in agriculture and farming machinery stemmed from his upbringing, spending school holidays and long weekends on various farms with his parents as a kid. Today, Matt is the owner of Fryer Ag Contracting where he specialises in maize planting, direct drilling, hill country cropping and trailer services.
Growing up in Taradale, a suburb in the heart of Hawke’s Bay, Matt spent his school years unsure about what he wanted to excel in. Looking back, he wished his years of schooling included agriculture but there wasn’t enough information about it when he was growing up.
Matt reminisced on the years of spending time on-farm when his parents helped their friends with docking. He would help out where needed and his uncle even taught him how to drive tractors. With fond memories, he decided to get into the agricultural sector professionally. “I've honestly never looked back and every goal I’ve set from the day that I decided to start my own business, I’ve basically achieved it. If you want to do something enough, you'll do it,” Matt said.
Fryer Ag Contracting is based in Puketapu, just outside of Taradale. Matt works anywhere between Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay and has owned his business for four years. Before that, Matt worked for Callum Thomsen: a former Young Farmer of the Year. They completed contracting work in the area together and also helped on Callum’s family sheep and beef farm. An opportunity eventuated where Matt was able to buy some of his own equipment and he started working for Callum as an owner-driver before eventually starting his own business. When it comes to cropping, the weather is a crucial factor in the process, therefore no day is the same. Matt is always working different hours and there is no consistency in his field. That was one of the reasons why Matt works as a one-man-band. However, the main reason he hasn’t hired staff is due to the complexities of cropping and needing a good work ethic to ensure you get it right.
“You get one shot at it. If you muck it up, it’s all on you. People don't realise how much is involved with costs to get the product and spraying the paddock out. A lot of farmers are organised and know what they want to do in three to four months' time. If there's a mistake, and you can't tell that there's been a mistake for a couple of months, you can't really just go and fix it,” Matt said.
Matt does, however, work with other people that he knows to get jobs done. He said that it’s much easier than having staff himself due to the nature of the work. “One minute you might need 10 people and the next you might only need one,” Matt said.
The maize planting season in Hawke’s Bay is from the end of August right through to the start of December. It usually starts getting quieter from January until the end of February. In the off season, Matt mainly operates diggers and bulldozers for farm and forestry projects. This work consists of environmental maintenance or carting products/materials with his tractor and trailer to development sites and roading projects. Matt works long hours and the workload is demanding, which can sometimes have an effect on his personal life. Luckily for Matt, he enjoys what he does and loves being outside working on different projects in various locations. He also appreciates meeting individuals from all walks of life and relishes in the community aspect of it. Working closely with people within the industry, Matt referred to it as being “a piece of the pie”. Everyone does their bit, offering information and advice to one another.
Matt realises that mental health plays an important role in the rural community. When he was growing up, the men around him wouldn’t Matt Fryer of Fryer Ag Contracting even consider bringing up the topic. Today, mental health has become a lot more vocalised but it is still an ongoing battle. When Hawke’s Bay had its drought in April/May 2020, a local within the rural community was spotted on television going through a tough time. Once Matt witnessed how upset this person was, he posted a video on Facebook offering his support to the wider Hawke’s Bay community. He said he was available if anyone needed to get off-farm for a couple of days, if they needed someone to drive their tractor and look after their animals, or if they just needed someone to chat to; the response from the community was great.
When Matt turns up to work every day, he recognises that farmers want to have a yarn with him, even if it’s not work-related. This is something that he always ensures that he does, being open to a conversation and making an effort with all of his clients. “There's always a laugh to be had. They’ll give you a hard time about something and you'll do the same,” Matt said.
Matt works with farmers daily and one of the things he sees a lot is that farmers struggle to get off-farm. “There's a lot of pride in farming and a lot of them look up to older generations whether it's a father, grandfather or their community. There’s also pride in not wanting to change things too much and it’s the fear of letting someone down. That's where a lot of mental health problems stem from.” Matt said.
Matt believes that farmers in New Zealand are going above and beyond with regards to the land on which they farm and the food that they produce. Every time Matt goes to visit a client, he will see that the majority of them are making substantial changes from one season to the next whether it’s planting native trees in gullies or fencing off waterways. The majority of farmers in New Zealand are doing the best that they can with what they’ve got under the current regulations.
“We're only a small country but what we produce here is known globally with our meat products and all the rest of it. It all starts with what we plant, who does it, where we do it and how we do it. Farming has changed a lot in the last five to ten years with our farming methods and techniques,” Matt said.
The regenerative space is becoming increasingly popular over the years and Matt has also found himself working with regenerative crops. These plant species will grow and then die out which will not destroy or alter what was already planted. This process helps to nurture the soil profile.
“I do a lot of direct drilling and minimal soil tillage and disturbance to try and keep the structure of the soil and not mess around with it too much. If you think about it in a long-term sense, like topsoil and water runoff, it's pretty precious stuff. It takes hundreds of years to produce and some of the methods we're using are just way too short-sighted and it took so long to do; it's just unnecessary.
“You want to be growing trees in the right place and working it all in together. Biodiversity; that’s what we need,” Matt said.
Matt’s future plans include owning a property with an adequate amount of land for him to acquire stock and grow his own regenerative crop. Matt never wants to become complacent in his role and is happy spending the rest of his working career in the cropping industry.