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