Saturday, April 20, 2024

Diversity makes a sound business

Neal Wallace
Glen Eden farm is a busy place. Mark and Susannah Guscott, the owners of the South Wairarapa property, have fingers in multiple pies and for good measure are about to open tourist accommodation. Neal Wallace spoke to Mark Guscott.
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Discussion groups visiting the Guscott family’s Glen Eden farm near Carterton comment on the complexity of the business.

But Mark and Susannah don’t see it that way. 

Certainly, there is plenty happening but Mark says once you get your head around the various elements it is not daunting.

The 800ha flat and hill country South Wairarapa property is a mix of breeding, finishing and cropping of cereal, feed and small seeds that knits together. Adding to that mix is newly built tourist accommodation.

The various constituents of the business have, in part, come out of necessity for a young couple taking over a family farm but is increasingly about seizing opportunities.

Mark and Susannah met at Lincoln University in the late 1990s and as a return to the family farm was becoming a serious option, Mark’s parents Philip and Jo realised the original 200ha home block was not financially viable.

Guscott senior had off-farm employment as a consultant, which included advising on farm succession, and had started to prepare for farm succession in 1999-2000 by buying a neighbouring 400ha block.

Another 200ha was added in 2005-06 a year after Mark and Susannah took over the farm.

Mark had spent several years in banking and travelling while Susannah worked as an environmental planner at various councils.

The succession model ticked key boxes.

The business had relatively low debt, Philip continued to work off the farm, they had some off-farm investments and plantation forests provided Mark’s two sisters with their share of the business.

Iterations of the plans go back several generations to address hill country erosion but since 2011 have been done in conjunction with Wellington Regional Council.

The council provides a map highlighting soil types from which stock and farm management decisions can be made.

“A lot of it is common sense. It really puts on paper what farmers already know about their farms.

“It is just recommending best practice. It doesn’t tell people how to farm or what they should run.”

As an example, the plans highlight wet areas unsuitable for wintering cattle and conversely stony areas where they can be run.

The plans also help riparian planting decisions and can help environmental projects qualify for council assistance, with culverts for example.

Each year a council environmental manager meets Mark to discuss and update planting programmes or changes needed.

“It’s not a big deal.”

One change he would like is for his farm environment plan to comply with farm plans required by processors though Atkins Ranch and First Light have their own compliance and audit requirements.

As the volume of verifiable compliance increases, streamlining the number of plans and documentation would be a huge benefit though it could be difficult to implement.

“It would be great if one-size fitted all and you could spend one day a year going through it. But every market is different and every farmer is different.”

The Guscotts are now going into tourism, telling tourists their story and sharing their love of Glen Eden and Wairarapa.

Construction of a high-end lodge is nearing completion on a hill off a road that runs through the farm beside the QEII bush.

The project is overseen by Susannah and will let visitors walk through the bush while enjoying a vista that includes Lake Wairarapa and the South Island. Guests can visit restaurants in Martinborough, a 10-minute drive, or local vineyards.

Attention is also turning to preparing the farm should any of their children, Olivia, 12, Annabelle, 10, or Ben, 7, want to become the seventh generation to farm Glen Eden.

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