A Lasting Legacy.
Anna Blair loves the variety offered by her job as manager of the family farm.
Anna Blair loves the variety offered by her job as manager of the family farm. While each day presents a new challenge, it also brings the benefits of lots of time spent in nature. ‘Bryndwr’, a bull beef farm about half an hour north of Dargaville, boasts views of stunning Northland landscape. Its spectacular outlook of the serene Kai Iwi lakes makes it a particularly appealing place to call your office. “It’s a very diverse job,” says Anna. “There are times when you’re out in the pouring rain and you’re covered in mud and everything seems to go wrong, but at other times it’s incredibly beautiful. I happen to be living on an incredibly beautiful farm.”
‘Bryndwr’ comprises 566 hectares running approximately 1200 head of cattle, and Anna's hand rears about 450 calves a season. The farm supplies bull beef to Silver Fern Farms 12 months of the year. Anna inherited the farm along with her sisters Deborah and Vanessa under tragic circumstances. Their father, Warren, died suddenly two years ago, just four-and-a-half years after their mother, Carol, had also passed away unexpectedly. “We felt all of a sudden our lives shifted,” reveals Vanessa. “I think that just pushed a transition that we weren’t ready for.”
The family may not have been emotionally prepared for the adjustment, but youngest sister Anna was more than ready to take over running ‘Bryndwr’. She’s worked on the family farm for 15 years, and prior to that had extensive experience on farms in New Zealand and Tasmania, not to mention she holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agriculture with Honours. When her father died, the choice to hold onto the property was an easy one for Anna to make. The decision was supported by eldest sister Deborah, who is completing an additional professional qualification in real estate and middle sister Vanessa, a breast and general surgeon. “I think that many people may have expected in our circumstances that we would sell the farm and all go our separate ways, but we haven’t and it’s not our intention to,” says Vanessa. “I don’t think it’s right that all of a sudden Dad dies and the farm should be sold. Anna’s invested an awful lot of time and I think people like her are the future of farming.”
Continuing on with the farm was a source of comfort for the sisters. “[Selling] would be worse I think, not having the continuity,” says Deborah. “It’s Anna’s livelihood and she enjoys it, so I can’t see any reason to change that.”
BACK TO NATURE
“It definitely changed when our father died. We were thrown together and we learnt each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Deborah, who is enthusiastic about the property’s gardens and native trees and is focused on the development and care of these. Vanessa’s main area of interest has been the forestry side of the farm, with trees on the property being harvested this year.
“We’re trying to diversify the farm so that we’ve got several income streams,” says Vanessa. Anna also appreciates input from her sisters when it comes to making big decisions regarding the land. “We all have our areas of expertise,” she says. “Sometimes ideas from the left field make you appreciate that there is a different way to see things.”
Silver Fern Farmer Anna believes the ultimate attraction for most livestock farmers is interacting with animals. “You’ve got to like being outside working with animals,” she says. Anna places a large emphasis on the health of her bulls, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable as calves. There’s a lot of work keeping them well fed, warm and healthy,” she says. “You want to do the best for your animals, and there is an economic rationale behind it as well. Ultimately you don’t want to lose the animal because that’s a big waste.”
This love of working with animals is part of Anna’s commitment to ethically produced beef. Anna believes today’s conscious consumer places value on traceability. “I like to know where my food comes from, and in line with that there’s an element of trust involved with the farmer,” she says. “You need to know that your food is safe to eat and ethically produced.”
Vanessa agrees that consumers like to know the origin of their food. “For every decision you make in the supermarket, you should read the labels,” she says. “Not only should you read the labels of what’s in your food, but you should also read the label for where it’s come from, and you should be supporting people who are endeavouring to farm to the highest standards – and I know that we do that.”
HARD WORK PAYING OFF
The Blairs’ commitment to integrity and quality certainly contributed to them winning the Bull Beef and Upper North Island categories at the most recent Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Awards. Anna says winning was “very much a surprise. Most of our beef goes into hamburger patties. It’s not very sexy!”
Silver Fern Farms prides itself on quality in every cut of meat from nose to tail as customers seek the highest reassurance of the quality and provenance of the ingredients. Knowing this, Anna says it was an honour to win, and she’s already looking to be crowned the overall Plate to Pasture winner sometime in the future. “I hope to win it one day,” she reveals.
Vanessa says it was an extra thrill to win following the hard times that came with the passing of their father. “When Anna won the regional section for us, she was nominated for that just over a year after Dad died, and for us as three sisters who were grappling with a lot of grief... it gave us a real lift,” she says.
Silver Fern Farms livestock agent Mike Colthurst believes the sisters’ late father, Warren would have been immensely proud that the Blair farm did so well in the awards. “Warren would be pleased as punch for Anna to have made the Plate to Pasture finals,” he says. Colthurst would know – he’s worked with the family for almost 30 years. “I started working with Warren and Carol, the girls’ parents, in the early nineties,” he says. “The special partnership between the Blairs and Silver Fern Farms is one Anna hopes will continue for years to come. “They’re the biggest in the country and so having that scale is security for us,” says Anna. “They’re experts in their field – they know what they’re doing.” While the Plate to Pasture recognition rewarded Anna for her hard work, the enjoyment she gets from farming continues to be her main motivation. And she’s extremely thankful for the tremendous community support throughout her time working on ‘Bryndwr’, especially when the sisters lost their parents. “I had people just turn up and say, ‘Right, I’m helping you on the farm today. What needs doing?’”
She also continues to enjoy special relationships with the people who knew and loved her mother and father. “I still sit down with Dad’s mates in the burger bar every Thursday after the livestock sale for a chat.”
In addition to backing from the community and Silver Fern Farms, which strongly supports and encourages women in farming, Anna has undying support from her sisters, who constantly sing her praises. “She is a very good role model for any farmer and young women farmers coming through can look and go, ‘Well, she’s doing it,” says Vanessa.
Deborah says that while the sisters appreciate the different qualities and skills they each have to offer, Anna is trusted completely to manage the farm. “One thing that we’re all really adamant on is that it is Anna’s farm and she will run it how she wants to run it,” she says. Vanessa agrees she and Deborah need not interfere. “Never tell Anna how to farm,” she says. “She’s got that all worked out by herself.”