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FARM OWNERSHIP: Harder you work, the luckier you get
REbecca Harper and Richard Greaves drafting ewes at Kaituna Farm.

FARM OWNERSHIP: Harder you work, the luckier you get

In the first of a series looking at how to achieve farm ownership, Country-Wide writer Rebecca Harper talks about her and husband Richard Greaves’ experiences.

 

Leasing hill country sheep and beef farms and shearing our own sheep for six years enabled us to save enough to enter an equity partnership and buy a farm in Pongaroa.

We farm 550 hectares (effective) of hill country in Pongaroa and own 43% of the land, stock and plant.

When I met Richard, I was editor of the New Zealand Farmers Weekly. I lived in Feilding and had saved hard to buy my first house, with the help of KiwiSaver.

I have been an agricultural journalist for nearly 10 years and have the privilege of visiting some of the best farms and meeting the top-performing farmers in the country.

I love rural people and writing their stories. I have heard some inspirational stories about people’s road to farm ownership and, although I know it has become harder to achieve the dream of farm ownership, I never accepted it was impossible, as I have heard some say. If it was easy, everyone would own a farm.

It all paid off, as the farm we ended up buying was suggested by someone at the pub, as he believed the couple might be looking at moving on. Cold-calling someone you don’t know isn’t a lot of fun, but in this case it was worth it.

My family farm is in Hawke’s Bay and both my brothers have bought in. I always knew I would never live or farm there personally and am completely fine with it, as long as it stays in our family and I can visit my home.

Richard does not come from a “family farm”, but he grew up on farms his father managed and left school at 17 to attend Taratahi. Farming is all he has ever wanted to do.

He and his parents had formed a company and were leasing two farms in Pongaroa when I met him. Richard and his father shore all their sheep – 6000 ewes every year – for the six years they leased, and his mum did the wool. The leases were profitable businesses and the boys put a large part of it down to doing the shearing. Richard does not love shearing, but it was something that just had to be done. When you’re leasing it’s a good use of time and a significant cost saving.

He also says keeping a tight rein on expenses and re-using and re-purposing material where possible was key to a successful lease.

During this time I left my job at Farmers Weekly, started my own freelance writing business and moved to the farm. I am lucky to be my own boss, do what I love and contribute a second income, while living remotely – thank you internet.

We starting looking for the next opportunity as the leases were going to end.

We looked at every farm that came on the market that was remotely within a possible budget. We looked at places where the real estate agent even warned that the house was “the worst he’d ever seen”. I didn’t care, I was willing to live anywhere, if it meant we got our own farm. And we saved hard.

I had bought my house well in Feilding and sold it for a good profit. We were aware of a quad bike park on the back boundary of one of the lease farms that was for sale and approached the owners. They agreed to a monthly grazing arrangement. With the money from my house we bought ewes and lambed them over there.

The fences were shot and I’m fairly sure some never came back out of the bush that covered most of the park, but it was another useful opportunity that made us money. I also apologise to the neighbour who had frequent visits to her stud ewes from our randy ram, who was determined not to stay within the confines of the quad park.

Ewes enjoy a drink while Penny the dog has a swim to cool off.

Networking is your friend

We attended field days and seminars, we told everyone we were looking – friends, family, multiple banks, rural professionals and people at the pub. At times it felt like the whole world knew our business but networking is so important.

Crunching the numbers

Richard and I ran numbers on every farm and scenario.

We considered buying something small first and supplementing our income with casual work and my income, leasing to buy and equity partnerships.

We were desperate to buy something, but not the wrong thing.

It had to be economic – we had saved so hard to get into a position to buy, the numbers had to stack up or we would be setting ourselves up to fail.

Numbers. We ran some numbers. We were sick of numbers and budgets. But someone told me that doing the numbers is never a waste of time and I’d agree now. We became pretty proficient at putting together a workable budget and presenting it to our bank manager –a good skill in my book. We got a good understanding of what was out there and what we believed was good buying, or not.

It all paid off, as the farm we ended up buying was suggested by someone at the pub, as he believed the couple might be looking at moving on. Cold-calling someone you don’t know isn’t a lot of fun, but in this case it was worth it.

We couldn’t afford to actually buy it until our leases had ended, as all our equity was tied up in the leases. But the farmer did not want to go through another lambing, so we agreed to lease the new farm for eight months, until we were able to officially buy the property.

That meant we had three lease farms for eight months. Every weekend was spent working at the new lease farm. Once again, it was hard work, but it was worth it because we knew we would get one farm that we owned, that we could live on. In order to make that deal work we were willing to lease, with an agreement to buy.

I should say that my parents and my brother are our equity partners. This was not always the plan, we had looked at many scenarios with outside investors, but it turned out that my family believed this particular farm was a good investment and wanted to go in with us to buy the farm. At this stage we have not been given anything, although my family are not chasing return on investment and they come to help at docking and weaning, which is obviously a huge plus for Richard and me.

The plan is that we will eventually buy the farm off the others. We only take half of the agreed salary for Richard. We leave the other half in the business to build our equity so we can buy shares off the others, and to help the farm out as we get up and running. I still work full time and my off-farm income was a selling point for our bank. I also help on the farm as much as possible.

We are really big on budgeting and regularly revising it using Cashmanager. We know exactly what our cashflow is at all times and we are still very careful about expenses. We want to spend our money wisely and at this stage it’s all about fencing (we aim to double the number of paddocks), fertiliser and water.

We are so lucky and grateful to have the support of both of our families, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are without them, but we also worked hard to make the dream of farm ownership a reality and I believe we deserve this. As the saying goes, the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Ewes jump for joy at having a paddock shift.