Thinking long term, how a family handled the estate

When farmer Tom Hargreaves left school, he was encouraged to leave and find his own way so he could return one day.

“We all sat around the table, mom and dad, my two sisters and I and they talked about how they thought it might work and asked us what we wanted,” Tom said. “We all wanted the farm to stay in the family.

Tom and his wife Anna received a minority stake in the farm, his parents retained the majority share, both held in trust, and his two sisters received other off-farm investments.

“That’s the beauty of their succession plan – no money has changed hands. No money had to be borrowed to pay my sisters.

Kakahu Angus Stud was purchased by Tom’s great-grandparents in 1924 and some 98 years later Tom is now in charge. What was 500ha when his father Gerald took over, has grown to 1600ha with 20,000 livestock units which include a Romney based sheep flock, Angus and Charolais beef studs as well as commercial herds and the recent purchase of a nearby 420-cow dairy farm.

Such expansion is not easy and Tom said debt was needed to achieve this growth so a good banking partner is essential and he also pointed out that their agricultural adviser who has been with the family for a long time has played a vital role in shaping their succession through the generations.

Eight members of staff work on the various farming operations, with Tom and Anna continuing their architectural business from the homestead of the farm.

“When I left school, I worked on a high country station for a year, then I went to Lincoln University to study agriculture, but I didn’t really like it. “

“After a year there I had the opportunity to play polo for Ireland and then England and when that was over I studied architecture in New Zealand.”

Working in Christchurch and then Melbourne, he was ready to return to the farm with his young family, having had enough of city life.

“I thought I would always take over the farm one day but I’m not someone who has had a track record at some point. I was never 100% sure.”

“I always helped on the farm when I was a kid, coming home for vacation from boarding school. And when I played polo, I spent the summers on the farm before returning to England.

“It’s something I’ve always appreciated.”

And now, in control, he enjoys the freedom his father gives him.

“He is always busy on the farm. He went out on the tractor today. He’s there if we need him and he’s not if we don’t.

“Dad was always looking for new opportunities and technologies that we could use on the farm, so I’m pretty much the same.

“He’s very good at letting me make my own decisions, but he knows I’m the kind of person, just like him, who does his research to make sure it will work before changing things.”

The stud uses EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) and progeny testing in its breeding programs looking for calving ease, good temperament, high carcass weights and marbling.

Cows from the dairy farm are used for embryo transplants at Stud Angus.

Tom says the succession plan his parents developed was very different from that of their parents and grandparents.

His great-grandfather had given the farm to his two sons when he died, one of them having then left to cultivate in the North Island.

When Tom’s father Gerald took over, he had to buy out his sisters using his share of the property as capital for the bank loan to do so.

What was also different for Gerald and his wife Sue was that they started off-farm investing when Tom was born.

“They were part of syndicates that bought commercial property in New Zealand and they were very successful. That’s what they use to help my sisters.

“Belinda has a backpacking business and Fiona works as a child psychologist but is involved in growing organic vegetables in Christchurch which helps people find jobs.”

The two sisters always return to the farm as soon as they can.

“Relationships are really important. We can all talk openly to each other about the farm and we have all remained close throughout the process.

“We could all be open and honest about whatever we wanted.

“It’s certainly not easy, but our personalities, the fact that we all get along, has helped.”

And Tom and Anna are already thinking about the next generation – their daughter Francesca is six and Louie is two.

“They both love being on the farm, but who knows what they’ll end up doing.”

“And that’s one of the reasons we bought the dairy farm. We will never sell the family farm, but if one of the children wants to do dairy farming, it is there for them.

“We also invest money in off-farm investments whenever we can.”

In two years, in 2024, the Hargreaves will celebrate 100 years of family ownership of Kakahu.

“It’s an amazing story, an amazing place to grow, to raise a family. We are very lucky that my parents made sure this happened.

Being open, committing to a plan early with all family members, and seeking the advice of good, trusted professionals has prepared the Hargreaves well and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Remember, it’s not too early to start thinking about the future of your farm, and it’s never too late.

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Angus Kebbell is the producer of Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

Michael J. Chiaramonte