International links help diversify farm
A focus on building international business relationships along with a homegrown entrepreneurial approach, has seen Simon and Kirsty Williamson successfully diversify their farming operation at Glenbrook Station.
The 3700ha sheep and beef farm south of Twizel, runs 3500 ewes, a shorthorn cattle stud, and produces a variety of crops for both export and local consumption.
Simon, who is the chair of the North Otago Federated Farmers and recent past chair of the high-country section, as well as chair of High Country Health which operates the Twizel Medical Centre, is astounded at the changes to the area since the family first moved to the property, in 2004.
“It’s amazing what a difference water has made. It’s revolutionised the town. You’re employing people and families, contractors, and there’s infrastructure...the wheel goes around and round, it’s hard to know where to stop with the benefits of it.”
Technology represents the other major change in farming, something Simon has adapted to with the help of a private internet connection.
“We most things now through the internet. Our farm accounting is online, and I use the internet for soil moisture, water monitoring and online sales.
“Sometimes you think back to using the internet on the phone lines, it was so slow, it was painful. You used to have to go away and have a cup of tea and then come back to see if anything had happened. It’s certainly come a long way. I travel to the USA most years, and there seems to be a big swing to online, you can do it all out of a tin shed.”
By developing international contacts, and embracing technology, the Williamsons have joined forces with Point6, a sock manufacturing company located in Colorado. They supply the company with top-quality Merino wool which is used to create high tech socks, base layers and apparel for outdoors enthusiasts and the US military. It then comes full circle, with Simon and Kirsty now managing the New Zealand and Australian distribution arm of the business, which involves importing and selling the final product online and in stores.
The philosophy behind Point6 with its focus on quality, sustainability, animal welfare and a fair return for farmers fits perfectly with the Williamson’s own values, says Simon.
“It works for both parties. They know where their wool is sourced from and it’s all above board, and it’s nice for the wool grower to have a knowledge of where the wool’s going to and what it’s being used for. We sell wool to Point6 and then buy it back as socks, it is a rather unique story. It’s something a little bit different, and nice to sell a product that sells itself.”
Simon and Kirsty also supply wool to Idaho-based company, First Lite, who specialise in hunting apparel.
To keep up with their business initiatives, the Williamsons regularly rely on Skype calls for business meetings, and the smooth running of the e-commerce side, which is used for online sales and inventory tracking.
Out on the farm, Simon monitors irrigators using his iPad and phone, and completes water, soil and moisture monitoring through telemetrics.
“We can see it all at the tip of our fingers,” he says. “It’s come a long way in a hurry, there’s still a lot of room to get broadband out into rural communities, but considering how fast the whole game’s moving, it’s incredible. The way farming’s moved compliance-wise and monitoring; farmers feel the environment’s their backyard, and they’re very mindful of not doing that’s detrimental to the cause, so they test water, and we put bores down at huge costs to monitor water. “I think farmers are doing a fantastic job in that space.”