Hard work, taking some risks led to success

Farming has been a great career choice for sheep and beef farmers Nelson and Fiona Hancox, of Tapanui.

They own three farms in West Otago and, in addition to improving production on each of them, have won several farming awards and are regarded as farming leaders for the region.

Mr Hancox is the third generation of farmer in his family.

Shortly after graduating from Lincoln University, Nelson bought his first farm near Balfour in 1984, with help from his parents and the bank.

The previous owner could not sell it as it was so run down, so loaned Mr Hancox the money on a fixed interest vendor mortgage.

During the first two years of his ownership the interest rates rocketed to 18% for a first mortgage.

''I had been hay baling and contracting when I was in school, so I had enough for a 20% deposit,'' Mr Hancox said.

''The 181ha farm was a bit run down and cheap at the time, but still halved in value in the first year (of ownership) and then doubled its value in nine years. ''That taught us to be profitable and be willing to take risks.''

Mr and Mrs Hancox stayed on the Balfour property for nine years before moving to West Otago to buy the 200ha Kowai Downs property from her parents, which was a more reliable property and was closer to family.

Later, as they paid off debt, they bought the 1360ha Wohelo farm at Wilden Settlement (including a run block) from the Richardson family.

They leased and later bought additional land to increase Kowai Downs area to 550ha. In 2008, they took over running Mt Allen, with lease to buy, from the Richardson family.

They have about 20,000 ewes, and 220 breeding cows, plus replacements and lambing percentages are about 140% to 150%, excluding hogget lambs, across the three properties.

The Romdale lambs are finished to an average of about 18kg.

Each farm is run by a manager - Julian Kelly at Mt Allen and Paul Slack at Wohelo - and all work in together for greater efficiency.

''We always try to stay in the top 20% of sheep and beef in terms of production per hectare in the district,'' Mr Hancox said.

They have also carried out extensive mole drainage of the heavier land, which he said improved lambing survival and ensured better pasture growth.

They introduced better genetics, improved pasture, and started hogget lambing as well as introducing the Inverdale fertility gene into the Wohelo ewes.

He said they believed in paying off debt and increasing equity as quickly as possible, then leveraging themselves into buying more land.

As for the future, they intend to continue reducing debt, so they can look at new opportunities in preparation for succession planning.

They have four children: Mitchell (20), Elliot (18), Zoe (17) and Tom (13).

- yvonne.ohara@alliedpress.co.nz