This Weeks ‘Nailing It’ is the powerhouse duo – Graham and Cathy Finlayson. Graham and Cathy may not have the profile of entrepreneurship that our readers are used to. They don’t code, their investors aren’t previous dot.com “winners”, but that’s about where the differences end.
When I left the cattle properties they manage on behalf of Sustainable Land Management on Friday, Graham made the following comments.
Photo by J-Sav
“We have now got 11,000 cattle. But when we finish this last piece of fencing and water, we’ll be able to run 40,000 head of cattle”
(Bore water is used as the average rainfall is only 13 inches)
“We were carrying twice the stocking rate of the district average through the drought and we’ve halved the costs of production per kilo of beef. Now it’s rained we can put the foot down”.
That means that by the end of July 2014 – they’re running about 16 times more efficiently than their neighbors!
Graham and Cathy have only been in the role for 12-months. The company they work for, Sustainable Land Management, has only existed for 2 years.
Graham and Cathy own Bokhara Plains, 7,200 Hectares of open plains country nestled between the Bokhara and Birrie rivers, 35kms North of Brewarrina in the NSW outback. This farm is running well despite not receiving any rain for 18-months – they still have stock.
Their neighbours by comparison are talking about walking off farms that have been in their family for 100 years.
Back when Graham and Cathy started out, they started attending courses on rural tourism. Then they started Bokhara Hutz on their cattle station. The accommodation was clean and comfortable. The food and service offering was a perfect fit. Nightly they served slow-cooked, salt-bush lamb and freshly made dampers. For the many travelling professionals (health care, accountants and government types) that were interested in the far-west catchment. Bokhara Hutz was the only place worth staying within 250km radius.
In their first year of operations they had 850 “night-stays”. The next year they doubled this. The following year, they tripled it again. All the growth came from word-of-mouth, free press and a very simple-format website.
What Graham liked best was that it was farm income and diversification that didn’t stop them running more stock. What Cathy liked best was that everyone who came to stay, loved it. Cathy says: “They learned something from us and we learned something from them”.
Sadly, Bokhara Hutz was put on ice just a year ago when Graham and Cathy moved into their current role managing 480,000 Hectares mostly in South West Queensland.
Somewhere during Grahams career he got the nick-name “Grant” because he was excellent at applying and getting grants that were available to innovative ideas around water and conservation, pest reduction and weeds.
Innovation looks remarkably like common-sense, but not all farmers took the opportunities. Graham did simple things like capping the free flowing bores (bores are pumps pulling up water in naturally occurring underground aquifers).
The water from the bores is then piped to where the stock are at any given time. This instead of letting the water flow across hundreds of km’s through “bore-drains”. Where most of the water simply evaporated away. And open water sources like dams and bore-drains give feral animals (there are lots of them – pigs, goats, foxes, camels, cats, rabbits and donkeys) a source of water. This cap-and-pipe system would largely be paid for by efficiency gains in the first couple of years and was topped up with a grant.
By 2005 the innovation on Bokhara Plains was so well recognised that Graham was awarded the NSW Young Farmer Of The Year. In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious Nuffield Scholarship, which is awarded annually by the industry to the person with greatest potential to transform agriculture.
They started hosting events for the Western Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and took on the role of teaching and mentoring other graziers that wanted to learn how they could increase their farm diversity and profitability. So far Graham has led dozens of young farmers to better results through education.
Graham and Cathy not only knock it out of the park in their professional lives they also have the most amazing family life. They have been married well over 20 years and still look at each other like teenagers in love for the first time.
As an example of their family-centric common sense. Unlike so many farm families (including my own) that wait to when the kids are home from school to help (for free) with the big work – (like musters or shearing) – Graham and Cathy took holidays during the kids holidays so the farm was not at peak work times but at peak relax times. Cathy says of this: “most farmers never take holidays and then wonder why their kids don’t want to be in agriculture”.
It’s testament to them that they continue to travel, have fun, book holidays and make a great living through planning. It’s there planning skills that gives them the same degree of certainty over where the cattle will be grazing in 1-day, 1-month or 4-months time. As Cathy says with a big genuine smile on her face: “We’re certainly people that like to have goals and work towards them”.
To help any of our readers that don’t have a context for the level of what Graham and Cathy have achieved. You need to know that most people in the Western CMA have had to de-stock completely, are in debt and are 68 years of age with no succession plan.
Graham and Cathy Finlayson, you guys are so, ‘Nailing It’. You are a credit to agriculture and represent a newer, more dynamic paradigm – of working with nature, of great stewardship of the soil, of low-stress stock handling of planning and of making a profit doing what you love in a way that’s most simply described as – “better”.