Morrison family still on same farm 152 years later

William Morrison, at his hill country farm north of Marton.
MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ.

William Morrison, at his hill country farm north of Marton.

The Morrison family has owned and operated a sheep and beef farming operation since 1864. Jill Galloway talks to William Morrison about the family business and its latest aquisition, a hill country farm in Rangitikei.

The old and the new have become a common thread for the Morrison's farming business.

The family has two properties with the home block near Marton - the Fern Flats, Ardo, farm - remaining in its ownership for generations - 152 years to be precise.

A hill country farm which is 17 kilometres north of Marton in the Rangitikei hills is the newcomer to the operation

The farms are owned equally by brothers William and Richard Morrison, their father John Morrison and his second cousin Graham Morrison.

They all live around the Marton farm as there is no house and no power at the hill country property.

And all the family is on the same page when it comes to developing the hill country property, says William Morrison.

He farms it with a manager, Daniel Clayton.

William says Daniel is the boss and he does what he is told.

To keep the farms running smoothly the Morrisons meet weekly to talk about their farm management, he says.

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While William looks after the hill country, his brother Richard looks after the Fern Flats farm with staff.

William says they bought the hill country farm two years ago.

"It is 900 hectares and hadn't had a lot invested in it for the last 50 years. So for us, I guess the good thing was it was a blank canvas."

On the work list for the property is fencing, fertiliser, livestock water and looking after its environment, he says..

William says the family has been working on a plan for Mangara station.

"Not everything can be done all at once. We had to work out priorities."

The first thing the Morrisons did was put stock water in smaller paddocks. Reticulating water with pumps, pipes, and troughs cost $300,000. That was a big deal, but stock need access to water, says William.

"You can make fences, put fertiliser on, but you need water for stock in paddocks."

In the past the water came by an old pump from nearby streams and now there is a more steady source and newer pump.

Next on the list is to upgrade the fencing and put in new gates.

William says a monthly meeting covers the group's finances on top of the weekly meeting on farm management of usually two or two and half hours.

"Generally the family works well. Sometimes it is a bit challenging and there is some generational differences"

He says John and Graham grew up on farms of about 160 hectares.

"It is a different way of thinking now. We have 1500 hectares and while they were used to doing everything themselves, we need staff and you have to be a team player."

He and brother Richard use a smart phone all the time and they can be a time saver and invaluable means of communication during work hours.

"I use it even when we are mustering in this hill country. Often you can't see the other person mustering too so we ring and talk."

William says young guys keep their phones with them all the time, while the older members of the Morrison farming business might have their phone with them, or they might not.

"As a means of communicating with people they're really important. You think about teams and staff and what works. Quite often you might suggest something, as staff are two steps beyond that. A phone is a good way of talking with people to find out what is happening."

The four Morrisons are equal partners in the business.

William's wife Erica van Reenen is a non executive director and is a farm advisor with AgFirst,

"She is my wife, yes, but brings a different perspective. Her specialties are human resources, the environment and she understands the farm system.

He says when there is tension, she often is able to dispel it.

"The family dynamics are interesting."

Farm facts:

- Morrison Farming has operated a sheep and beef farming business since 1864.

- The properties include hill country of 1030 hectares and 400ha of flats.

- They winter 16,000 stock unit, half sheep and half cattle.

- The Morrisons calve heifers at two years of age, and lamb some one-year-old hoggets.

- They use farm technologies such as Farmax, Cash manager, performance recording of cattle and sheep and an on-farm intra-web support system to help with decision-making and to help analyse the business.

- They highly value their peer networks, such as Beef & Lamb New Zealand, the farmer council and Federated Farmers for their advice and inspiration and motivation.

- Most of their income comes from selling finished lambs and heifers to meat plants and bull sales.

- The cattle policy is to breed polled hereford cattle that give birth easily and grow fast.- The sheep policy is to have a ewe flock that weans 160 per cent of lambs for finishing before Christmas, is shorn once a year with no dagging and minimal animal health requirements.

- They lamb 4500 ewes and about 1000 hoggets each year.

- After the ewes are scanned the triplet-bearing ewes go to the flat land at Fern Flats. Some single bearing ewes from Fern Flats go to the hills.

 

 - Stuff

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