Involving everyone in the conversation

Involving everyone in the conversation


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Doug Brown, his sons Paul and Andrew, his father Allan and nephew Mark (front) get ready for shearing.

Doug Brown, his sons Paul and Andrew, his father Allan and nephew Mark (front) get ready for shearing.

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DOUG and Sue Brown are on their second succession plan and have just completed the first year in partnership with their two sons.

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DOUG and Sue Brown are on their second succession plan and have just completed the first year in partnership with their two sons.

Mr Brown's family began farming at Moorilim, central Victoria, in the 1880s and the family farm was passed from one generation to the next.

After completing an agriculture diploma at Glenormiston, then working in Queensland and Western Australia, Mr Brown returned home to continue the tradition of working on the family farm, alongside his parents Allan and Margaret.

In the early 1980s, Mr Brown bought additional land, adjacent and close to his parents' farm.

"It was a good relationship, Allan would buy equipment and Doug would use it and in return would provide free labour on his parents' farm," Mrs Brown said. "It helped us to develop our property."

They began growing their cropping and sheep farm, adding to their assets 20 years ago when they purchased Go Grains and incorporated it into their farming business.

Go Grains cleans and bags grain and delivers the product to retail outlets.

"We wanted to add on to what we were doing and we also bought it to provide cash flow," Mrs Brown said.

"We were already producing grain and this was a way of value-adding to the farm business.

"We moved Go Grains to the farm and began expanding it, from our own grain production and buying from surrounding farms."

The turn of the century saw them enter their first succession plan, when they expanded their landholding again and Mr Brown's brother Robert, returned to his parents' farm.

"In 2000, we bought 324 hectares and Doug's brother, Robert, left the army and wanted to come home," Mrs Brown said.

"Added to that, Allan wasn't well. That was probably the beginning of our succession planning, involving an independent rural counsellor.

"Everyone in the family, including Doug's other brother and his two sisters, were involved in the conversations and plans.

"The final plans enabled Allan and Margaret to buy a home off-farm and retire, for Doug and his siblings to be recognised and share in the assets and for the farm business to generate an income for Doug and Robert and support Allan and Margaret in retirement."

During the next 10 years, Robert began raising a young family, while Doug and Sue's children, Andrew and Paul, reached adulthood and went to university.

Andrew completed an agriculture diploma at Dookie, began working for a harvest contractor and eventually bought his own header and set up business as a contractor, working in Victoria and NSW.

Paul completed an agriculture diploma at Dookie, where he met his future wife, Melissa, and then went to work in the mining industry in Queensland.

Jessica completed a double degree in Agriculture and Business at the University of New England at Armidale, NSW, and after graduating last year, began working with Rural Finance.

In the meantime, Andrew and Paul had bought land nearby their parents' farm and last year Paul and Melissa bought a 324ha farm in the district.

"After 10 years, we decided to dissolve the partnership between Doug and Robert as everyone's priorities shifted and our children were interested in returning to the farm," Mrs Brown said.

"We began our next succession planning stage, with someone referred by Rural Finance, with the intention of the boys coming into the partnership.

"We all talked about what we wanted and we ended up with a structure that has some flexibility in it."

The new structure, which came into effect on July 1, 2013, provides everyone with ownership of their original assets and recognises the expertise that each person - Doug, Sue, Andrew, Paul, Melissa and Jessica - brings to the farm business, Moorilim Pastoral Company.

"One of the criteria is that everyone can each have their own business as well as involvement in the family business," Mrs Brown said.

"For example, Andrew harvests elsewhere and on the farm as a contractor.

"We all have an equal share in the business and all the land is leased to the business, including Go Grains.

"The business owns all plant and equipment.

"Doug, Andrew and Paul have shared management roles and are subsequently paid a wage by the business."

The family has dinner together weekly followed by a business meeting where discussion ranges across marketing and gross margins to organising the shearing, when to spray crops and relaying information from the agronomist.

Risk has also been built into the business model.

"Part of the process was developing decision-making guidelines: who was responsible for what and writing it down," Mrs Brown said.

"We also agreed what was a business decision and what was an individual decision.

"For example, purchase or lease of land is an individual decision but whether it becomes part of the business is a group decision.

"The structure also ensures that if someone wants to leave the business, there will be no negative ramifications - their share has to be sold to someone else in the partnership."

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