Topdressing industry ‘scratchy’

The Central Ag Air crop duster, a Gippsland GA-200C Fatman, on the airstrip at Bill Clouston’s...
The Central Ag Air crop duster, a Gippsland GA-200C Fatman, on the airstrip at Bill Clouston’s farm in Becks. PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
The topdressing industry is navigating turbulent times as farmers cut costs, a southern pilot says.

Central Ag Air owner and pilot Marc Mangan, of Hills Creek on the Maniototo, said he launched the topdressing business 10 years ago and times had never been tougher for securing work.

"At the moment things are pretty scratchy in the industry."

The workload was down by at least half on past years, a trend impacting topdressing companies across New Zealand, he said.

Farmers were cutting costs for a raft of reasons, including the impact of government regulations and a drop in the lamb prices.

"Things are pretty bad at the moment."

Southern Rural Life caught up with Mr Mangan as he and his wife Winkie Sisson were loading their plane with fuel and urea on the airstrip on Bill Clouston’s farm in Becks.

Once airborne, Mr Mangan spread the urea across more than 150ha of winter crops on James Armstrong’s neighbouring 360ha sheep and beef farm.

Central Ag Air owners Marc Mangan and wife Winkie Sisson on the Maniototo.
Central Ag Air owners Marc Mangan and wife Winkie Sisson on the Maniototo.
His plane, a Gippsland GA-200C Fatman, had a 300hp piston engine and was capable of carrying a ton of fertiliser.

"It’s a great plane."

In the current economic climate, he was thankful to be operating a plane with a piston engine, which was more friendly on the wallet to operate than an agricultural aircraft with a turbine engine.

"It chews about 80 litres an hour, where a turbine chews about 280 litres."

Employing no staff and operating only one plane helped them keep costs down and navigate tough times, Mr Mangan said.

He was hopeful the economic climate would improve.

"It can’t get any worse."

Despite lamb prices falling, the season had otherwise been good.

Sheep and beef farmer James Armstrong inspects the urea set to be spread by air on his winter crops.
Sheep and beef farmer James Armstrong inspects the urea set to be spread by air on his winter crops.
"I’ve never seen our ewes and lamb cleaner."

About 300 lambs were sent away in the first draft, averaging 16kg.

"Which is unusual for us, normally we are lucky to do 100."

 

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