Syndicate farming a growing venture

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014
Tim Barrett is head of Farm Venture, which sets up syndicates to buy and operate dairy farms.
Fairfax NZ

ENTREPRENEUR: Tim Barrett is head of Farm Venture, which sets up syndicates to buy and operate dairy farms.

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School didn't fit the bill for a young Taranaki man wanting to party and make money.

The man behind Taranaki's Farm Venture, a business that establishes syndicates to buy and operate dairy farms in Taranaki and the King Country, wanted to get on with life.

Tim Barrett was a pupil at Francis Douglas Memorial College in New Plymouth and principal Brother Peter Bray was adamant he wanted the 15-year-old to stay at school so he could go to university.

"But I had stuff I wanted to do," the now 50-year-old millionaire businessman said, "and I needed money to do it."

So Barrett got his way and embarked on a farming career. He managed to fit in some partying but he was more focused on becoming a farmer, so he followed the traditional path of working for wages and as a variable order and 50/50 sharemilker to dairy farm ownership at Te Kiri in South Taranaki. Along the way he also spent a year in Canada working on beef and cropping farms.

Bray eventually got his way too because when Barrett was 32 he decided it was time to start using his brains in a way that would let him use his on-farm experience to help others.

He engaged variable order sharemilkers to run his dairy farm and headed off to Massey University where he gained a bachelor of applied science.

He graduated in 2000, sold the farm, joined equity partnerships that owned farms, and set up a farm consultancy business. It had 50 clients by the time he established Farm Venture in 2005.

He has no regrets about the path he followed.

He said he established Farm Venture, which now manages five farms, for the same reasons that he went to university - "using my brains and experience and to help people."

The farms milk 2850 cows which supplied 1 million kilograms milksolids to Fonterra last season. They comprise 1612ha which include 950 effective dairy hectares, 292ha for dry stock and maize silage, and forestry and native bush. The farms are:

Blue Rata, Okato, 221 effective hectares.

Tariki Dairies, 120 effective hectares.

Wairere-Aria, a 204ha (effective) dairy unit and 116ha (effective) drystock unit at Piopio.

Tauraroa consists of a 219ha dairy unit, a 85ha dry stock unit, and 141ha in forestry, bush and crops at Otorohanga.

All rivers on the five farms are fenced and riparian planting is at least 80 per cent complete.

The farms are operated by variable order sharemilkers who employ their own staff and own their own motorcycles and calf- feeding equipment.

Farm Venture has two office staff and employs Debbie McCallum, of Hawera, as farm consultant.

Taranaki-based OnFarmSafety, established last year by Bronwyn Muir - now Taranaki Federated Farmers president - conducts annual safety audits on the farms because Barrett wants to foster a strong health and safety culture.

Kay Consulting, Ltd, which specialises in agricultural engineering and quality management systems, audits Farm Venture's effluent management.

The farms, with huge increases in production as part of Farm Venture, consistently perform in the top 10 per cent in the area where they're located.

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On Tariki Farms, production rose from 70,000kg MS to 120,000kg and is on target for 153,000kg this season after the addition of 20ha to the milking platform.

At Blue Rata, production has risen 65 per cent from 109,000kg MS to a target this year of 180,000kg.

At this time of year, Barrett visits each farms twice a month, but it may be as often as twice a week during the season peak. He also conducts weekly planning sessions with the sharemilkers and phones them two or three times a week. The sharemilkers also attend regular Farm Venture on-farm discussion groups on each other's farms.

Farm Venture has 56 investors from all over New Zealand and overseas. Each farm has between seven and 23 investors, some of whom have multiple shares in multiple farms. On an average dairy payout of $7.15, investors receive a 6.9 return on their investment. Each farm has about 70 per cent equity.

No shareholder can have more than a 25 per cent share in each farm so none has a veto. Total overseas investment in a farm is also limited to 25 per cent. "This means that we retain 75 per cent in Kiwi control. That's important to me," Barrett said.

As Farm Venture's CEO, he sets up and supervises the syndicated farms. With investors waiting to purchase shares in syndicates, he needs more farms.

"I'm looking for farms that I can turn around and get a better performance from. I'll look at 20 farms to find one with potential."

He says prices for Taranaki dairy farms are over-inflated. In December he lost two tenders for farms which sold for more than he was prepared to pay.

Anyone wanting to join a Farm Venture syndicate needs $150,000 and to be a wealthy, experienced investor able to satisfy Financial Marketing Authority rules.

He said a Farm Venture syndicate offered secure, monitored performance of investments and gave investors the opportunity to be part of the dairy industry. It also provided sharemilkers with another stepping stone toward farm ownership.

Investors receive regular updates on the performance of their investment, with on-line daily milk production and milk quality results, monthly farm management reports and cashflow updates, newsletters and financial statements. Open days are also held on the farms.

Farm Venture arranges the syndicate that buys the farm and the election of a board of directors, manages development and supervises the farm under contract. Sharemilkers attend board meetings.

"It's important to separate governance and management - governance is managing the business and management is managing the farm."

He believes Farm Venture is Taranaki's only farm investment business, although MyFarm and FarmRight operate in the province. Informal groups also operated as syndicates.

Barrett said he had put strong policies and procedures in place as he established Farm Venture. "So now I have the opportunity to grow.

"Watch this space."

- Taranaki Daily News

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