J&K Belfield based at Albany in Western Australia epitomises the quintessential small regional trucking enterprise and is a prime example of the principle that versatility is key in rural transport. As part of a network comprising hundreds of other similar outfits across the country, it is operators like these that form the backbone of the rural trucking effort in Australia, Paul Matthei digs deep for Diesel News to find out more.
Husband and wife team Jamie and Kelly Belfield run a tight ship servicing the needs of farmers in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. Theirs is a business consisting of two prime movers, a number of steel and aluminium tippers as well as tankers used to cart liquid fertiliser. During the busy periods of sowing and harvest, the company engages up to four subcontractors to manage the workload.
Jamie has been in trucking for most of his working life. After leaving school he did a wool-classing course for a couple of years then worked in a shearing team for seven years. Then he dove headfirst into road transport in partnership with his father.
“Me and the old boy won a contract to cart silica sand to the port so I worked with him for just over 20 years before Kelly and I decided to start our own company,” Jamie explains. “We’ve been in business for the past five years and absolutely love it.”
The business revolves entirely around the needs of the farming community with commodities including fertiliser (liquid and dry), lime, gypsum and lupins inbound and grain outbound.
“As a small operator, most of the time we are dealing directly with the farmers which I think is ideal because you get to know your customers and you can look after them well and they do the same to you,” Jamie says. “When I was working with the old man we carted for a fertiliser company for 16 years and while it was quite a good job, we were always dealing with bigger entities. I prefer what we do now because we’re dealing with the farmers at a personal level.”
Jamie goes on to relate that working amongst the close-knit southern WA farming community means your reputation can pr ecede you, and he talks about instances where he has turned up with a load and the farmer has recognised him from his shearing days some 25 years earlier.
“Once they know who you are they are happy to leave you alone to operate the auger and unload into the silo while they go off and check the cows, they think it’s great that they don’t have to watch you in case you stuff something up,” says Jamie.
Jamie describes the ebbs and flows of the workload as mostly manageable, although he says it gets a bit hectic around sowing time when everyone wants their liquid fertiliser delivered at the same time.
“We’ve got about 25 loads booked in over the next month which will keep us on our toes,” he laughs, adding that his driver, Scotty Mills, does a lot of the liquid fertiliser deliveries which keeps him busy for at least nine months of the year.
As the conversation continues, Jamie reinforces the fact versatility is key in rural transport and one of the key ingredients for success with small trucking firms. Put succinctly, while his job order-bank stretches ahead for six weeks, anywhere within that time frame he has the ability to shuffle things around in order to strike the optimum balance between customer satisfaction and peak equipment utilisation. And, of course, to manage any spike in demand for services Jamie has a shortlist of trusted and reliable subbies he can call on.