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Dairy partnership moves to a third generation

After more than 30 years, the Hansen and Sadler families can lay claim to having the longest and most successful partnership in the Tasmanian dairy industry.

Now the partners are moving into the next dimension, adding a third generation to the mix.

Wayne Hansen started working for Duncan and Sally Sadler when he was just 15, about 30 years ago. Then in his late teens when he was still an apprentice, he entered into a share farming and equity partnership agreement with the Sadlers.

The partnership has evolved over time and will take on a new look this year when their employee Nathan Lawrence transitions from employee to share farmer.

It is all part of their philosophy of nurturing and finding pathways into the industry for talented and dedicated young dairy farmers.

It has worked well for the Sadlers and for Wayne Hansen and his wife Linda, and they hope all will benefit from the new arrangement.

The partnership started when Duncan Sadler saw the value of offering an incentive and pathway to young Wayne who was working on their home dairy property, Currajong at Flowerdale.

“Wayne started with us when he was 15,” Duncan said. “We jointly own property now. Over the years we have accumulated run-off blocks and various different joint ventures.”

Duncan said he liked to invest in people and relationships.

“I believe the industry has always been about relationships,” he said. “You’ve got to have a lot of give and take and see everyone’s view point.”

At 17, when Wayne became an apprentice, he was paid a percentage of the milk cheque instead of a wage.

“I guess they could see signs that I was worthy of nurturing and identified that paying a bit extra would be an incentive. It was more than just a job – it made me feel like I was part of the business,” Wayne said.

When an opportunity came up to buy a half share of the cows, the Hansens made the investment.

The arrangement involved splitting the input costs and income 50:50. While the Sadlers maintained ownership of the main dairy farm, the families jointly bought more land and the Hansens lived on a run-off block they purchased.

“It worked well for us,” Wayne said. “It has allowed me to grow in the industry. We don’t always agree but we seem to be able to work out something.”

After Duncan turned 50, a little over a decade ago, and decided to start reducing his active involvement in the farm, the Hansens purchased the stock, plant and equipment and part of the shared run-off land while they continued to share costs.

“That gave Linda and I an opportunity to build up some more assets,” Wayne said.

Now with Duncan 61 and Wayne having just turned 50, they are about to enter into a unit trust arrangement in the new financial year to allow Duncan to step back a bit further and to pave the way for Wayne to lighten his load.

“It was a clear pathway for Wayne to be able to do what I’ve done, slow down and get out of the milking shed,” Duncan said.

“It’s about making wise business decisions for the organisation. There’s no point in my wife and I having lots of money if we have a crappy farm and a crappy life. I’m all for keeping everyone on the same page and working for the same goals – having a nice tidy farm, good income, good holidays, which all add up to a good life,” he said.

The plan is to amalgamate the cows and machinery back into the main dairy operation in a 45-45-10 split.

“It’s an opportunity for Nathan to invest as well and some succession planning for Linda and myself,” Wayne said. “Nathan is a terrific young farmer and we identified that he might be able to step up and take over my role as day-to-day manager in a few years.”

The partners have always taken a sure but steady investment approach to ensure the farm is progressing.

It milks 480 cows off 125ha. Production last year was 295,000kg of milk solids, an average of 615kg per cow. About two tonnes of grain per cow is fed over the year as part of the campaign to increase production.

“We started off milking about 100 cows and were probably at 400 five or six years ago. It’s pretty much at its optimum at the moment,” Wayne said.

Learning from discussion groups and being willing to adopt new practices led to the growth.

“We renew our pastures and try to make the farm efficient. We get the timing right and pay attention to detail - make sure things get done that need to be done,” he said.

Despite reducing his workload, Duncan remains committed to dairying.

“It’s a very inspirational industry to be in if you can keep up with it,” he said. “It’s very much about learning and staying focussed on the key things.

“You need to look at the markets and do your numbers…why be a punter in a bad market? We look three months ahead and are very careful about going forward. Being three months ahead means you can make much better decisions and roll with the punches.”

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