For Lucy Robertshawe and Tim Aitken it was when the erosion of capital in their Tikokino, Hawke’s Bay, farm was so serious they put their farm on the market.
Now, five years on, it is hard to believe that the winners of the Marks & Spencer Farming for the Future Award for 2012 were once at such a low point.
Lucy is upfront about the highs and lows of farming and is a fine example of rural fortitude.
“The mid-2000s was such a horrendous time with venison at not much more than $3 a kilo. Tim was calculating what he was losing per minute and it was crunch time.”
Despite the figures, Lucy was reluctant to sell The Steyning, which the couple bought from her father in 1993. They had farmed there for 10 years and were understandably attached to the property. The park-like farm has around 7000 totara trees which escaped the 1920s’ clearing and, in a typical understatement from Lucy, is what she calls “very pretty”.
Not content with accepting low profitability and selling the farm, Lucy helped rally Tim and they started asking trusted people for advice. Not long after this they met Gerard Hickey from Firstlight Foods and became shareholders in Firstlight Venison, a producer group that provided more certainty with long-term contracts, stable pricing and, most importantly, better profitability.
Lucy was no longer glued to the daily venison schedule on the radio and was delighted to have people working for their venison sales.
“It was a fantastic day.”
The real estate agent missed out on a sale and, five years down the track, the couple are now in a position to look at investment opportunities. Moving from the doldrums to accolades is something Lucy is particularly proud of. It was not a speedy turn-around but one of steady improvements, she said.
Tim decided to embark on a Masters degree, majoring in agribusiness management, to hone his business skills. Lucy said she might as well have an honorary degree after the hours she put in reading all his papers. With Tim studying day and night as well as farming, the pressure came on them both.
“An MB is not called a marriage buster for nothing,” Lucy said.
With two young children the days were busy. The roller-coaster ride for Lucy is one she has embraced whole-heartedly. She is involved with running the farm, shares the dog team with Tim, and loves getting around the farm on her horses. Most importantly she’s had the front door open to people who could help their business, especially those who vibrate at the same energy level, as she puts it.