Monday, April 22, 2024

Business focus helps realise ownership goal

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A changing New Zealand farming landscape has made it increasingly difficult for the next generation to get into farm ownership. Colin Williscroft spoke to Tim and Monique Neeson, who have bucked that trend.
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As farm ownership has shifted away from the traditional family-owned model to one that is more corporate based, it has become harder for the next generation of young farmers to buy their own property.

Ruapehu farmers Tim and Monique Neeson, who farm at the end of a no-exit gravel road in Tokirima on the Forgotten World Highway between Whangamomona and Taumarunui, say they are aware that others of their generation have found it difficult to achieve what they have – become farm owners.

For them they knew early on that ownership was what they wanted and focused on that goal; it was just a matter of working out how to achieve it.

They recently bought the farm they now own from Tim’s parents Alex and Lyn but it didn’t come without careful planning, sacrifices and plenty of hard work.

Tim bought his first property when he was 19, a two-unit block of flats in Hamilton, and he began paying the mortgage.

He left school when he was 16 and went dairy farming for about a year but didn’t like it, so returned to the hills and the drystock way of farming.

Farm work was something he always took to naturally, returning to the farm during school holidays and long weekends to help out where he could; fencing, docking and whatever else needed doing.

Tim’s parents bought the first part of the farm in 1987 after moving to the area from Coromandel.

They had been farming a few lease blocks up north but were looking for a property that they could afford to buy for themselves.

The initial 350 hectares was bought as part of a mortgagee sale, then 10 years later they bought another 350ha next door. A decade later, 550ha across the Ohura River was added.

It’s an hour’s drive from Taumarunui and with their nearest neighbour about 8km away, it’s fairly isolated.

With hunting, jet boating and ski fields on their doorstep, remote-living has never been a problem for Tim, who has always enjoyed the outdoors lifestyle that comes with it. But for Monique, who was a hairdresser in New Plymouth before moving to the farm, it took a bit of getting used to.

They originally knew each other through Monique’s brother, who Tim had met at Francis Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth, but it was a bit of an eye-opener for her the first time Tim brought her out to the farm.

“When I drove out the first time I thought ‘this road doesn’t go anywhere – no one can live this far out.’ I told Tim I was never driving this road again.”

How times have changed.

These days she’s an integral part of the local school community that their children attend, knows all about getting her hands dirty helping with the farm’s winter calving operation and used to cook for the shearers before having their children.

Tim and Monique bought the farm from his parents earlier this year.

ShearWarmth blankets are made from wool especially selected from the first clip of lambs’ fleeces from the Neeson’s Tokirima farm.

The sheep are well-suited to the King Country property and the Neesons did not want to compromise on the quality of the clip they had worked so hard to produce in the past.

Brainstorming with a glass of wine in hand, Monique and Lyn realised there was potentially a market for quality blankets produced from New Zealand wool, although at that time neither knew anything about how to manufacture them.

The blankets, which come in three sizes–bassinet, cot and large–are made from wool especially selected from the first clip of lambs’ fleeces from their Tokirima farm.

All the scouring, spinning and weaving the wool into blankets is all done in the North Island, along with sewing on the satin edging. Only natural dyes are used to colour the wool, while an undyed blanket, the colour of which varies year-by-year depending on the wool crop, is also popular.

When they first started, they were the only company making traditional woollen blankets completely in NZ, from lamb’s wool traced back to the family farm.

Sold online through the ShearWarmth website and a shop in Taumarunui, the blankets are bought by people from around the world.

Despite the growing awareness of the benefits of wool, it’s not an easy feat to produce the blankets in NZ rather than by cheaper overseas manufacturers, as they come at a price that not everyone wants to pay.

But the farm’s focus is on its own operation and Tim and Monique want to share what they have learned with other young people considering farm ownership.

They realise that as a couple in their 30s, in the eyes of many in today’s farming world they are seen as having jumped in the deep end when it comes to their commitment to owning their own farming business.

However, because they have done a lot in a relatively short space of time, focusing on strategic business and personal development, they would like to share their experience and be there to provide advice to other young people looking at getting into farm ownership.

“It would be nice to help others to get to where they want through some sort of mentoring,” Monique said, adding that one of the key things to farm succession plans is keeping the lines of communication open.

Sometimes that might involve pulling together family members who are no longer on the property.

“There’s people out there who want to do it (get into farm ownership) and if we could help them then that would be great,” she said.

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