FMG Young Farmer of the Year grand finalist - Matt McRae

Posted by on 15 May 2019 | Comments


Southland sheep and beef farmer Matt McRae is preparing to compete in this year’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final in Hawke’s Bay. It will be his last shot at taking out the prestigious title.

Matt McRae is one of the driving forces behind a family-owned agribusiness in Southland which is in expansion mode.

The addition of a new 320 hectare lease block in April, has enabled significant growth in sheep and cattle numbers.

“It’s been a busy couple of months,” said Matt, who was named the Otago/Southland FMG Young Farmer of the Year in February.

The fourth generation farmer lives on a 405 hectare property at Mokoreta with his wife Natalie and their young son Jacob.

The land is farmed by Matt and his younger brother Joe, in conjunction with another 250 hectare property nearby. Their two siblings own shares in the business.

“Acquiring the lease block will enable us to increase ewe numbers by 2300 to a total of 6500,” he said.

Hogget numbers will climb to 1900, dairy grazers will jump to 300 and beef steer numbers will grow to 120.

The opportunity to expand has arisen at a time when buoyant demand has seen ewe prices nudge $300 each.

“It’s probably not ideal timing in terms of what we’re having to pay for capital stock, but it’s great the industry is looking positive,” said Matt.

“To help build numbers we’ve retained an extra 700 hoggets or ewe replacements, which we’d usually sell.”

The McRae’s farm Romney-Texel ewes. Matt describes them as solid, low maintenance sheep which are good at foraging.

“You have to like what you look at every day,” he said.

The ewes’ lambing percentage over the last three seasons has been 150 per cent, which is above the national average. It’s 85-90 per cent for the hoggets.

Lambing starts in mid-September and the McRae’s target over an 18.5kg carcass weight lamb.

“We try to have 15 per cent of the lambs ready for processing by mid-December, with our average kill date usually in mid-February,” he said.

Prior to returning to the family farm seven years ago, Matt obtained a Bachelor of Commerce (Agriculture) from Lincoln University and spent three years working as a rural banker.

“That was a pretty invaluable experience. I got to see the financial figures for a lot of different businesses,” he said.

“It taught me pretty quickly that while a business might look good from the outside, they weren’t always profitable.”

Matt spent his first two years back home working under a manager who had run the farm since his father Neil McRae had passed away in 2004.

“One of the reasons we have kept our business in the family is to utilise each other’s expertise and the benefits of scale,” he said.

“When I worked in banking I saw some great examples of families working together to grow their equity. It helps that we are a close-knit family.”

The property where Matt lives has been in his family for 110 years. He hopes his young son Jacob might want to farm it one day.

Matt’s immediate focus is on winning the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final in July.

“It’s my last shot at the title. I turn 31 in August, so there won’t be any second chances. I will be going there to win. It really helps to sharpen my focus,” he said.

The grand final will be Matt’s first time in Hawke’s Bay. He’s attempting to broaden his knowledge of horticulture and viticulture before the high-pressure event.

“I’m just trying to fill my brain with as much information as possible,” he laughed.

Matt credits his wife Natalie and his family with giving him the support and encouragement he needs to go for gold.

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final runs from 4th-6th July in Hawke’s Bay.