Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Jigsaw has four families in picture

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Four families working together presents challenges but equally it’s provided disproportionate opportunities for the Guild clan on High Peak Station, farm operations manager Hamish Guild says. Annette Scott visited High Peak to learn how the pieces of the large farming puzzle have come together. 
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High Peak Station is a spectacular 3780 hectare, high-country farm near the Rakaia Gorge in Canterbury.

The Guild family bought the traditional pastoral farming property in 1973, originally running just sheep and beef with deer added in the late 1970s.

It was a case of having to look at a new way of making the property viable.

“Dad (James) and his brother Colin took up farming High Peak, moving from their family cropping farm at Temuka (South Canterbury) when their father, my grandfather Alastair, decided High Peak was for us,” Hamish said.

But four weeks after taking up the station the big snow of 1973 all but wiped the young farmers out when they lost 55% of their sheep, the crucial wool income they were counting on and 28% of their cattle.

“It was either give up or borrow money and find a way to make it work.”

Running a high-country station with multiple income streams doesn’t meant Hamish Guild doesn’t have time to pat one of the workers, Blitz.

Direct brand exporting is a relatively new High Peak venture focused on meeting consumer demand.

“I believe farmers are more attuned to their own production systems when consumers are giving them the right signals so the more consumers know about our business the more we can tailor our business to provide them with what they want.

“We need to tap into each and every consumer’s individual needs and try and tailor our products accordingly.”

They are starting with the non-perishable products of their Perendale wool and honey. Meat is a prospect for the future.

“Red meat is a big tough, rough market but we are passionate about doing something better with red meat.

“We’ll cut the teeth on other products then look to turning our attention to branding our meat products.”

While the direct to market is a big challenge for High Peak the family sees a lot of benefit in it.

“I’m sure we can crack the nut. Ultimately, we think the model we’ve got at the moment is scalable and we’d like to see other farmers with directly traceable brands doing the same thing.

“We don’t want to be competing in the same marketplace. That’s a problem we’ve had in the past with New Zealand. We would like to see, as a country, diversification into new markets, carving out different niches to extract full value for the products we produce.” 

The key for High Peak is derisking the farm.

“Everything we are doing is interlinked – tourism, farm, food production, involving all of our family members and utilising individual expertise in some way or other.

“If we have got people excited about what we do here then why not take our product direct to them.

“We are being reasonably bold but the key is management in what is a major development phase.”

The ongoing development of High Peak takes in 10 different income streams with the pastoral farming for sheep meat and wool, venison and velvet and the beef cattle.

Tourism includes heli-skiing, hunting and fishing and on-farm tourism then there’s the beekeeping and forestry and on top of it all the direct brand exports.

Tourism continues to develop from its beginnings in the 1980s and that’s under Simon’s leadership. When he returned from overseas he wanted to be in the family business but not farming.

Hunting and fishing are key in the of tourism operation with ongoing plans to further grow and build the High Peak experience in a model that front-foots the good story of NZ farming and its great outdoors experiences.

“It’s a lot of strings to the bow but the operation here on High Peak today has to support three young families and our overseers Mum and Dad.

“So, it’s been a great journey for me with what I have been exposed to with the wider family business. It has changed for the better how I thought my farming career might go.

“I spent two and half years travelling overseas and that was a great chance to look around and learn a lot and it was good advice from Mum and Dad who said if you’re going to farm it’s pretty full on, make sure you want to do it.

“It was two and half years that helped me decide I want to be back here and I want to farm this property.

“Ten years ago we probably didn’t think it was going to be like this and then as time evolved it’s the pieces of the jigsaw that have all fallen into place.

“We have put formal procedures in place and we’re making progress.

“My wife Gemma and I have three children, my brother and sister have two children each so it’s really important that our children can grow up in this type of environment.

“It can be a relentless hard place at times bit it’s also an exceptional place to grow up and for me to be able to pass that on to another generation is a real privilege.”

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