Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Growing the business for family

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Clear business and breeding objectives and vision won Mike and Cath Cranstone the 2012 Hereford Herd of Excellence competition on their Riverton operation at Fordell. At a recent field day on the Wanganui property, Hereford Herd of Excellence judges commended their well-stated vision and objectives, backed up with proactive management and huge commitment to the breed, their business, stock performance and their team of people who work in their business. Mike Cranstone returned to the family farm at 24 with some capital in 1998 after leasing land in Canterbury and Waihi following graduation from Lincoln University. During the past 14 years he and Cath have built the business from the original Riverton 470ha to properties (leased and owned) totalling 2223ha, running 19,492 stock units and producing Hereford bulls, prime lambs, finished cattle and grain. The business showed an economic farm surplus of $612/ha and $64.4/su in the last financial year at a stocking rate of 9.5su/ha on the mix of flat, medium and steep hill country of the lower reaches of the Whangaehu River valley.
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The Riverton farm in 1998 housed three generations of the Cranstone family as Mike’s parents Les and Ginny were farming the property and his grandmother Aira was still living on the farm.

The need to expand to create cashflow and allow succession and sustainability was addressed by Mike and Les in the early days, setting up a farming company to own stock and plant with Mike holding a 75% stake. The original family land was put into a trust and added to, then Mike and Cath bought their first block in the name of their own trust in 2005. Leasing land has proved a higher cash return to help service debt and Mike and Cath have focused on adjacent properties to add to their portfolio.

Mike with Sam, Cath with Sophie and Les with Hamish: Family is the reason the Cranstones work hard building their business.

While building their farm business, Mike and Cath Cranstone built a hard-working team around them.

They made reference to the opportunity given to them by Mike’s parents Les and Ginny, setting up a farming company with Mike as majority shareholder when he first arrived back at Riverton and also to the help and support they received from Les, who has been a tireless worker on the expansion journey.

Staff are important to them, and the Monday 7.30am staff meeting plans the week ahead, gives a heads-up on what’s coming up, and reviews the week past. Mike updates the staff on the feed budget in winter and sets up stock plans in Excel, sharing by email and hard copies.

Having a common file for the farm with access for all staff is something he wants to set up in the future.

Mike and Cath lost a staff member to suicide last year and Cath spoke of the effect that had on the whole team. She said Michael, their junior shepherd, was a highly motivated worker, passionate about the job, particularly loving the dog work and showing drive and initiative. He asked lots of questions and was hungry for information.

Cath spoke of how relaxed Michael was in their homes; he had a rapport with all the staff and their children and a great sense of humour and ready grin.

Having all enjoyed a do in the local hall together with the local community the weekend before, the team was devastated when Michael took his life with a firearm.

“It wasn’t just a statistic, it was a huge loss for us all, for the whole team,” she said. “There is a lot of press coverage about suicides recently … it’s very hard to understand but so important to talk about.”

Cath urged all the farmers present to talk about any feelings of depression or sadness they might have – rather than avoiding it or bottling it up.

“It seems part of the Kiwi psyche. We all talk about setting and achieving goals but we also need to talk about the flipside – how we feel about disappointment and how to cope if things don’t go our way.”

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