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Big picture vision, yet a focus on detail underpins success for Stanes family

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

24/05/2023

It’s fascinating how quickly one can take for granted the convenience of checking stock water levels via a mobile phone, or the ease of a solar powered pump.

For South Australian grazier, Bennett Stanes, technology has had a profound – and rapid – impact on the day-to-day running of the family’s Lyndavale Cattle Co, a fully integrated organic beef operation spanning from Adelaide through to the Northern Territory.

“It’s quite incredible when you sit back and think about it, it wasn’t that long ago we would spend hours on bore runs, or carrying diesel across the paddocks every couple of days to run pumps, and now with the swipe of a phone we have so much information at our fingertips.”

“When you look at the dramatic changes across the operation thanks to technology over the past five years, you start to truly appreciate how much time and labour is being saved – and it’s exciting to think what’s next, what will we be taking for granted in another five years?”

Bennett and his wife Lily, together with his brother Ross and wife Jo, and parents Anne and John, manage three large stations, ‘Lyndavale Station’ and ‘Mt Ebenezer’ in the Northern Territory and ‘De Rose Hill’ in South Australia, plus several smaller fattening blocks in the Jervois and Macclesfield regions.

The vast geography of the family run operation affords the business a unique seasonal resilience, yet conversely, requires precise management and labour.

“Our geographic spread gives us versatility, and mitigates our climatic risk in terms of rainfall, but it comes with extra challenges in terms of labour and distance, and takes some complexity to run,” Bennett said.

Keen adaptors of technology, Bennett says management and labour requirements continue to ease thanks to innovation – from the newfound simplicity of weekly zoom family meetings, to walk-over-weigh bridges to optimise turn-off rates and maximise returns.

“The key to adoption of technology is working out which will provide a real return on your investment. Sometimes this requires a trial to ascertain whether some new tech is really a fit for your business.”

Building a business to withstand seasons, and markets

The Stanes family has been running “Lyndavale Station” since Bennett and Ross’s great grandfather Sid took ownership of “Erldunda Station” in the 1920s, of which “Lyndavale” was originally part of.

Today, Ross and Jo manage Lyndavale and Mt Ebenezer, run as breeding operations, while Anne and John are at “De Rose Hill” where steers and culled females are finished off.

In more recent years the family has adopted a strategy of acquiring smaller irrigation blocks and land in higher rainfall regions, and since 2006 they’ve purchased four farms in the Jervois region.

In 2020 the family expanded into the Adelaide Hills region, buying a finishing block on which Bennett and Lily now live.

“The purpose of this property is purely to fatten our non-replacing females, which would previously have been sold off a little lighter, as we didn’t quite have the capacity to get them to a finished weight on the station.”

Several consecutive dry seasons prompted the family to expand beyond their three main stations, and it’s a move that has paid dividends.

“Our Jervois and Macclesfield blocks benefit from irrigation and higher and predictable rainfall, so we’re aiming to smooth out production even during really dry years in the north, and to maintain a consistent turnover.”

While the family still breed and fatten their Angus cross Charolais herd in the north, the expansion into the South has built resilience into the business in dry years.

“That run of lean years really forced us to think outside the box, and thankfully our parents have always been willing to challenge their own thinking, they’ve been doing it their entire life,” Bennett said.

“We’re not the biggest operators by any stretch, but we seem to benefit from our ability to think outside the square.”

While scale helps the operation mitigate seasonal risk, the Stanes' have also successfully navigated the enterprise through market fluctuations thanks to their accredited organic status (USDA), as well as EUCAS  and MSA.

Organic accreditation for business, and the environment

Lyndavale Cattle Co attained its organic accreditation in 2011, and while Bennett said the paperwork was onerous, it is well worth it.

“The stations have always been run organically, so getting them accredited was a no-brainer.”

While the significant initial premiums for their USDA accredited organic beef have softened, an EU accreditation acquired five years ago is delivering premiums just as valuable.

“Premiums will always fluctuate, but these accreditations ensure we have all our options open, we’re not just price takers, and this again builds resilience into the business.”

While all their Jervois properties are now accredited, providing organic fodder and hay across the operation, their Macclesfield property is yet to be certified, and Bennett concedes that considering the high rainfall, it may not be practical to receive all accreditations.

To maintain their USDA organic status, an audit is carried out across each property annually. The accreditation requires diligence in record keeping in terms of approved inputs, animal traceability and land uses. Organic certified inputs are allowed, and producers may apply for derogations to use non certified products, for example untreated seed.

The operation runs approximately 5,000 breeding cows, turning off roughly 3,000 head annually, mostly for slaughter, and the majority of the herd is predominantly high-grade Angus or Charolais cross Angus.  

“Our number one focus is fertility; it’s the main profit driver for our operation and we believe the Angus gives us that edge,” Bennett explained.

“With the introduction of the Charolais we’ve been able to increase our carcase weight, whilst breeding a herd with a calm temperament that is robust and adaptive – the Charolais adapt well to the environment of the central Australian region, and their white coats allow them to handle the heat much better than the blacks.”

Keeping it in the family

Bennett and Ross are fourth generation in the family operation, and Bennett admits he’s acutely aware of the responsibility as custodians of such a strong family legacy.

“We all have a real sense of place on the stations, and we want to do the best we can with the land that we manage.”

The family has been actively engaged in formal succession planning for over five years, although Bennett said the conversation started well over ten years ago.

“We work really hard as a family on the vision of the operation, and meet periodically with consultants to try and go about it as best we can – we’re not all sorted yet, but at least we’re talking about it and working through it. It’s an ongoing process.”

His father John Stanes attributes much of the growth and success of the family operation to a strong ethical approach to cattle and land management.

“We take a sustainable approach when managing our land and cattle, and this is reflected in our mission statement of stewardship of looking after our land and livestock for future generations.”

A thirst for new technology

Bennett says the family will continue to look to technology for solutions and opportunities to further ease the day-to-day farm management.

The Starlink internet service has proved the operation’s most recent ‘game changer’, negating any glitches or lags in internet-based applications, and Bennett said this alone was saving the business time, and certainly minimising frustration.

The Stanes' are also part of a pilot trial for CiboLabs, using intelligent software to measure pastures via satellite and providing feed on offer data in terms of dry matter per hectare.

Black Box Co., livestock analysis and insights software, is also helping deliver carcase feedback, and provide a better understanding of cattle growth characteristics, with the family in the early stages of adapting the software.  

“So far it’s proving pretty exciting data to tap into,  and will give us a thorough understanding of our growth rates in the herd and other characteristics,” Bennett said.

Rabobank relationship critical to growth

Clients of Senior Rural Manager, Peter Robinson, out of Adelaide, Bennett said Peter had been a very important part of the family’s journey.

“Rabobank has always backed us, every time we’ve wanted to expand – even when we bought Macclesfield in 2020 after such a devastating drought, they didn’t hesitate, they understand our vision and the cycles of agriculture and that’s a huge reassurance,” Bennett said.

John’s sentiment is equally as positive, particularly in regards to Rabobank’s support of their vision for the environment, and their business.

“We have learned through experience that sustainable land practices and profitability are not mutually exclusive – rather they have a symbiotic relationship.”

“We’ve been fortunate in that we have had the support and advice from key industry experts, which has allowed us to focus our attention and effort on the crucial drivers of our business.

“We consider conservative stocking rates and proper land management to be the cornerstone of our business and indeed our responsibility both to the land and to future generations, and feel very grateful to have Peter and Rabobank so enthusiastically sharing in, and supporting, our journey.”

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

24/05/2023