Are you honest? Are you reliable? Do you get things done? Then farming could be the thing for you. Ben Todhunter, owner of Cleardale, a 1,460-hectare, mid-Canterbury station believes that these traits are the prerequisites for keeping a farm running successfully. And while that may well be true, managing a mixed sheep and cattle, crops and dairy-based farm also comes with many challenges.
Ben explains: “Farming, now, calls for some real skills; it’s quite a skilled business to run properly. It takes a while to learn that craft so you need to be patient, but also you need to see the opportunities.” He himself earned an agricultural commerce degree at Lincoln University before doing a master’s in business administration at University College Dublin.
In addition to performing the daily tasks that come with the job, including constant vigilance around upgrading or maintaining farm infrastructure, managing staff, talking to clients and keeping on top of the paperwork in the office, Ben is a recognised pioneer in the farming industry.
Through his work in genetics, in collaboration with seven other farms across New Zealand and Australia, Ben aims to “…breed a fine wool sheep that has cross-breed performance, so it’s got high reproduction growth rates and good carcass attributes as well as good wool.” This means breeding a sheep with resistance to footrot, parasites and fly strike. “We’re trying to bring the genetics together to accomplish that through selective breeding,” he says.
Power to the people
If that isn’t enough, Ben launched a hydroelectric power station development sparked by an idea to try and fund the intake infrastructure and piping for his irrigation development. “The power station is owned by MainPower. They effectively capture the water for me and direct it to the areas for irrigation and they get hydroelectricity. It works well for them and it works well for us.”
Ben’s involvement with outside organisations is a key part of his well-known farming profile. His roles as a member of the Molesworth Steering Committee, director of the New Zealand Merino Company and chairman of the Lincoln University Foundation, are just some of the positions he currently holds.
“He is not afraid to investigate new techniques and related businesses to grow the enterprise,” says Jeanette McLennan, owner of Alford Forest Station. “His solid education, off-farm travel and networking also help him to contribute to the agricultural industry at a higher level.”
While Ben’s son, William, jokes that his day-to-day work involves “10 minutes of hard work, then smoko,” it is obvious from all the accolades Ben receives that this is not the case.
Clearly, agriculture is his passion. “This is one area where New Zealand has real competence and real natural advantage and that shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says.
The sky’s the limit
And the future of farming is looking pretty positive too. Already many exciting developments are imminent, including the use of drones for monitoring livestock and crops, the ability to monitor and measure new genetics, as well as precision monitoring of fertiliser and spray distribution on the farm.
All of these developments are pretty amazing, says Ben, and show a lot of promise. “The application of farming technology is continuous and offers opportunity for improvement the whole time.”
Ben recommends that anyone wanting to pursue a farming career finds out what other people have done to see where the opportunities are.
“There have always been opportunities for people in agriculture with drive and vision and determination. There are lots of stories of people who have been able to grow some really good businesses in their lifetime.” Evidently Ben’s story is one of them.