Tuesday, December 5, 2023

It’s time for this old dog’s new trick

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Everyone’s favourite Kiwi farmer is ready to bid full-time farming goodbye.
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Every dog has its day.

This dog’s day has finally come as I contemplate the end of my 40-year full-time farming career.

It has been brought on by an ageing and failing body with a long put-up with lower back injury that gives a bit of sciatica, a crook shoulder from my broken collar bone when I fell off the two-wheeler last year and a couple of arthritic hips. Plenty of people worse, I know, but with more stoicism than me.

Maybe only 64, but the novelty of feeling sore most working days has worn off.

And these have been a tough few years as well.

I began farming in the mid-1980s, when returns were terrible, interest rates were high and there were droughts, but I was in my twenties and had an opportunity and this was a great challenge of economic survival.

Now we have had two nasty autumn droughts in a row followed by the wettest winter I can recall and the highest annual rainfall, which then ran into two cyclones.

Not to mention the amount of regulatory change.

I love farming on my own as there are no labour issues but, as many of you know, being an owner operator makes it hard to get away from the business so it’s usually easier to stay around.

I think I’ve gone past peak challenge. I want an easier life!

We have three sons, with Matt the youngest, who gets married this week, working in Auckland as a camera operator.

Hugh, the middle one, works in Amsterdam as an asset manager with a start-up company that is setting up truck electric charging stations across Europe.

And Jason, the eldest, is in a farming equity partnership that finishes at the end of May as the farm the partnership leases has sold.

I didn’t put any pressure on him to come back to this modest business as he could move on to greater things, but he has elected to come back here.

Some of my mates don’t have farming successors so have sold their farms, which obviously frees up the family capital allowing a comfortable retirement and the opportunity to disperse capital to the kids earlier.

Like many of you, we have been to several succession workshops and seminars and have had a plan for 30  years which has evolved as circumstances have changed.

It seems the best succession plan is to have just the one child.

Hardest is if you have a few and they all want to farm.

We don’t have that problem, but one of the current mantras is that “you can be fair, but you can’t be even”.

We haven’t followed that advice as our fervent wish, which outweighs keeping a family farming business intact, is that our three sons remain good mates as I have with my siblings, and our son’s kids become close cousins as they are with their own cousins.

Naturally this doesn’t make it easy for the incoming farming son but we have a plan, which I might discuss in another column.

Jason and Rosa have our first grandchild, Fern, and we feel this home where my siblings and me grew up and where Jane and I nurtured our own children is a good place for her to grow up as well.

So, we have bought a house about 10 minutes away and will use the capital they bring as they buy into this business to pay for that.

The other change resulting from this life change or semi-retirement is that I’ll finish writing this column at the end of June.

I took over the old NZ Farmer column spot in 1995 from Geoff Prickett, who had written for seven years when he himself retired from farming at Mōrere.

He had taken it on from the celebrated Roland Clark, or Norwester as he was known by his pen name when he retired.

Thus, I see it as bringing the view of a full-time farmer, and after 28 years of filing a weekly thought, it’s time for a younger perspective on our industry and the world around us.

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