Diversification keeps Simpsons on Balmoral

High country farmers traditionally face two significant challenges - the harsh conditions in which they must wrest a living from the land and how to make it pay for their children and their children's children.

Balmoral Station's Simpson family has taken an entrepreneurial approach to the problemFamily members have put in place their own tailor-made plan which combines their strengths and pools resources to support family, connect with the community and conserve their environment into the future.

The Simpsons are runners-up in this year's Lincoln University Foundation South Island Farmer of the Year award.

Their vision and entrepreneurship stood out for its extensive skill set, its business and governance structures and international networking, judges said.

Their enterprise, near Lake Tekapo, is built on 10,000ha Balmoral Station, owned by Andrew and Karen Simpson and farmed by the family since the 1970s.

The couple have now stepped back from day-to-day farm management and allowed son Sam to step up and take the reins. Sam owns the plant and stock, which includes 5000 sheep and a merino sheep stud, grows 200ha of crop a year and has ''a handful of deer and alpaca''.

So far, Balmoral sounds much like any other high country family operation.

Then Sam and Andrew begin to catalogue the family's ventures. Sam and partner Sarah Kerr focus on producing fine wool and a high-end merino meat company, Balmoral Estate, opened in partnership with chef Kelvin Campbell. Sarah also runs Mackenzie Alpine Horse Trekking.

Karen and daughter Amanda use the fine wool to produce baby and adult garments and Amanda runs the accommodation business with partner Steve Berge.

She also helps with the property development (more about that later) and is almost ready to open an outlet for high country produce at Le Stables - the refurbished stables of the historic Mt John Station.

Le Stables also provides golf club hire to those who travel light. It forms part of the golfing venture.

The Cairns - a nine-hole golf course opened by Sir Bob Charles last year, is owned and operated by Andrew and Karen.

The Cairns is also the name given to the property development, on the new edge of Tekapo township, owned by the couple.

They are also joint owners of a 300ha forestry block, with consent for a further 1000ha. Eldest son Ben Simpson, a doctor, is working in Australia, but remains involved. He and partner Gemma Lee own the helicopter hangar and pad on the property leased to Tekapo Helicopters.

Andrew said managing farm succession had always been a priority and, like most high country properties, Balmoral was ''marginal''.

''It's pretty harsh.''

The choice was to get bigger or get smarter and look at alternative income streams, Andrew said.

To manage the complex arrangements and tie them into the whole, the family has set up an advisory board chaired by Mr Berge chosen because of his corporate experience and planning skills.

All eight family members are on the board and have employed legal executive Janyne Hooke to give ''continuity'', Andrew said.

She knew the business well, having worked with the family for the past 12 years, he said.

In reality, the idea for the management model had been there all along, Sam said.

''It was staring us in the face for a long time - that was the way forward.''

The board operated under agreed guidelines, with everyone getting a say.

Ultimately, each of the businesses had one person who took responsibility and reported on progress, although anyone could contribute, he said.

All cards must be put on the table ''then there are no surprises''. Andrew said.

''Being open and out there minimises conflict. We're aiming to achieve a managed succession, not a chaotic succession,'' he said.

The biggest challenge in the high country was to find ''streams of income''.

Farmers had to cope with the vagaries of the export dollar and the best way to mitigate risk was to diversify, Andrew said.

Sam Simpson said his father always encouraged taking up new ideas and he had respect for his advice.

''He's learnt on the hoof the hard way.''

Andrew said the family also valued the community and each contributed. He rattles off

various local organisations of which he has been a member of the founding team - the squash club, the Mackenzie Alpine Trust, the High Country Accord; he is also on the South Canterbury high country committee of Federated Farmers.

Karen is trustee of the Mid and South Canterbury Community Trust; Sam is chairman of the Mackenzie/Waitaki Merino Sheep Breeders Association and Balmoral is host to the annual Mackenzie Collie Dog Club trials.