Black Rock Farm | Succession planning vital in this farming business

The Bunnys farm Black Rock, running sheep and cattle on their 425 hectare block at the end of Black Rock Road and on ‘Banavie’, a 420 hectare lease block next door.

The couple leased Black Rock from Andrew’s grandfather, John, for three years before buying it from him in 2007.  Leasing provided a great stepping stone for them to get onto the family farm. “In that time we paid off the stock loan and got to know the property’s strengths and weaknesses for stock policy and productivity advantages,” says Karen.

Chris and Viv Bunny, Andrew’s parents farm ‘Lake Mallard’, which neighbours Black Rock.

Succession planning for farming families is an important consideration, and Viv says the family has begun the process.

“We started making succession plans several years ago as Chris and I are now in our 60s,” says Viv.  “The end goal is to ensure that the farm stays in the family. We have begun downsizing our property by selling land to Andrew and Karen.  We have no plans to hang up our gumboots anytime soon, but it’s very important to begin the succession process and continue to work on it, including all siblings in the planning so that they know what’s happening earlier rather than later.”

“My father, John who is 95, gets great pleasure from often visiting Andrew and Karen at Black Rock,” says Andrew’s father Chris.

Moore Stephens Markhams director Alistair McLennan has been an integral part of the Bunnys’ business from the beginning.  “We include him in all major decision making (including our succession plan) and value his input.  Alistair is a Trustee of the Trust that owns the land and buildings, from which our company, Black Rock Hills, leases the farm,” explains Karen.

“Alistair is good at coming in with a ‘big picture’ view and we have good discussions around how to structure the business with him.

“Our objective is to try and always be in a position where we can take up an opportunity if it arises.  We were highly indebted at the start, and have had to maintain a high level of performance to get this down to a more desirable and manageable level so that we can achieve this objective.”

To ensure they stay on track and to share ideas and knowledge, the Bunnys take part in Baker & Associates’ annual benchmarking FAB Analysis and Andrew is a member of the Whangaehu discussion group.

“It’s great to bounce ideas off other farmers and discuss topical and current management issues.  This allows us to make informed and timely decisions.  With a good mix of experience within the group it’s also a good place to learn what to do and what not do to, especially with the younger guys.  It’s very valuable,” says Andrew.

The discussion groups regularly gather at each other’s farms to see them in operation.  “We get really good feedback when they visit.  They see your operation from a different point of view and ask questions.  It makes you think about your decisions and justify your actions.”

Andrew and Karen have two children aged eight and six. “Discussions with them are a little way off, but the desire is to allow them both the same opportunities that we have had.”

“Farm succession planning can be tricky if it’s not handled right,” says Andrew.  “While it can’t be equal, it needs to be fair.”