Fast-tracked farm ownership for Freeland Pork

Fast-tracked farm ownership for Freeland Pork

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Cultivating Farms has matched young business Freeland Pork with an investor, making a farming couple's dreams come true.

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"It's like Tinder for farmers," Claire Coates says about the service that connected her family with an investor and, ultimately, saved her business from closure.

Cultivate Farms matches aspiring farmers like Ms Coates and husband Marc with investors and retiring farmers.

The Coates couple is the driving force behind thriving Kyabram paddock-to-plate pork supplier, Freeland Pork, but the sapling business was almost felled as quickly as it emerged.

A neighbour to their leased farm lodged an objection as soon as the Coates family began to build its herd of free range pigs in 2016.

The crippling bureaucracy, barristers and delays that ensued made it clear the family needed to find a new place to operate their farm business.

"We had to attend VCAT and we weighed up the real need for coughing up a lot of money for barristers and so on," Ms Coates said.

"Basically, the objector was trying to weed us out, making us believe that we needed to spend a lot of money that we didn't have.

"We could have easily had to fold but managed to do enough to tread water.

"I worked out how long we had before we had to shut down, sell the animals and go to work for somebody else.

"I realised that, if this business was going to get traction and take off, I needed someone to back it and we needed another farm but I didn't know how to reach investors.

"There's plenty of investors out there but how do they meet the right people with the right mindset, the right skill and the ability to run a business they could confidently invest in?"

The couple was thrown a lifeline when Ms Coates met Sam Marwood of Cultivate Farms.

"I was inquiring about leasing properties, talking to real estate agents and a couple of other initiatives popped up that we considered but Sam had the ability to get us in front of someone that might invest."

Aspiring and retiring farmers register their interest with Cultivate Farms, which then helps to get business plans investment ready and facilitates a match.

It was not a quick or a simple process but one which inspired confidence.

The Freeland Pork pitch - using a template supplied by Mr Marwood complete with operational plans, budgets, risk analyses and projections - was made to a Cultivate Farms investor in October 2017 and the new property was settled on June 5, 2018.

The investor bought the farm and 50 per cent of Freeland Pork, which leases the farmland back from the investor's company.

Eventually, Freeland Pork will buy the land from the investor, freeing up his capital once more and building equity for the Coates family.

Now secure and already profitable, Freeland Pork's 40 hectares is at capacity with 65 free-range Large White sows and three Berkshire boars.

The farm turns off 20, 19-week-old pigs a week.

Half are sold through farmer's markets and the other half, wholesale.

Mr Coates is primarily responsible for the operation of the farm and, while he has had a long career in farming, pig husbandry was new to the couple and the free-range approach brought added challenges.

"In a free range environment, we have to alter their nutrition throughout the seasons to keep the fat consistent, week in and week out," Ms Coates said.

"Restaurants don't want 3 millimetres of fat one day and 20mm the next."

The couple also quickly identified the importance of a butcher able to handle their volumes while maintaining quality.

"The biggest drama people who are trying to produce a protein at a farmers market week-in, week-out have is the consistency of the butchering," Ms Coates said.

"They either get big enough to support having their own butchering setup, which is not easy in Victoria, or have multiple butchers."

The answer came in the form of an alliance with Echuca Meats, whose owner, Kieran Hinck, was looking for opportunities to expand.

Now, Ms Coates works part time in the butchery, manages Freeland Pork and is an extra pair of hands for Mr Coates on the farm, while juggling care for their three young children.

It is a full schedule but Ms Coates is not content to stop there.

She plans to grow Freeland Pork to as many as 150 sows, possibly with extra leased land or contract growers.

The Cultivate Farms advocate is also keen to mentor a new crop of aspiring farmers via the service.

"I am so stoked to be able to make this happen," Ms Coates said.

"At the end of the day, it's all about relationship building.

"If you're a good person, you're going to attract like-minded people and have great business relationships.

"The mentality I've always had is to come from a place of abundance.

"If you always come from the mentality of a win-win and never win-lose, everyone wins."

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