Wednesday, July 6, 2022

On the go

A modest land holding bought 80 years ago has evolved into a large and varied family farming business.

Den Briant started farming 32ha on the Poverty Bay flats at Patutahi, just out of Gisborne, about 1930. His sons Frank and David eventually took over, forming a partnership in 1971.

The farm has gradually grown to 320ha. The brothers each own their parts separately, but Frank said running the business as a partnership gave them more scale and management flexibility.

While cropping is the main source of income, lamb finishing optimises land use during the winter and they have also diversified into growing citrus and grapes.

“There’s usually one thing that comes through for you in a year,” Frank said. “Expenses don’t ever go down.”

They also lease some more flat land for cropping and lamb finishing.

In the early days of their partnership, Frank and David could manage most of the work themselves. Nowadays, the farm employs Frank’s sons Stuart and Hamish, David’s son Andrew and son-in-law Richie, plus another eight permanent staff members.

Franks wife, Vivienne, does the accounts and pays wages.

“When David and I started we just did everything and pretty much did it together.”

Now, David oversees the annual cropping and calf rearing, while Frank is mostly in charge of the sheep, grapes and oranges.

Summer crops of seed maize and squash, followed by winter lambing, lamb finishing and calf rearing make for little down time on the busy property.

“We’ve got a workforce of really good, competent people,” Frank said. “We want to try to keep them all year round and by doing this we can keep a workforce going all the time.”

Apart from grape and seed maize harvest, grape pruning and squash weeding, the Briants and their team handle most other work on the farm – including the big machinery jobs of preparing the ground for planting, sowing of crops and new grasses.

As the size of the business has increased during the years, the Briants have acquired an impressive collection of machinery, from maize planters and trucks to a total of 15 tractors. Luckily, they have an A-grade mechanic on-farm. Stuart Briant trained on large machinery and the workshop on the farm is mostly his domain.

“I’d hate to imagine what the size of the accounts would be if we didn’t have him to take care of the machinery,” Frank said.

While each might have their area of expertise or interest, everyone working on the farm must be prepared to try their hand at a variety of work. For Frank, that variety is what appeals most, as well as the lifestyle.

“I just like being on the farm.”

While he is modest about the business the family has built up over the years, Frank is pleased with what they have achieved.

“I’m reasonably proud of our effort.”


Frank Briant in one of three blocks of grapes planted on the farm. He and brother David planted their first grape vine in 1979. They had their father Den plant the first vine in a small ceremony, but Den then got on the tractor to water the new vines and accidentally ran over the first vine.

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