A family is realising a dream of “coming home” to own a farm in Western Southland.
Waimara Angus stud was founded by Tom and Sally Law in1998, on the farm they leased and raised a family on, in Te Anau.
In 2006, the Laws signed a five-year lease for Tumai, a 560ha coastal farm in Waikouaiti.
The lease was renewed in 2011 when their daughter, Kate, and her husband, Chris Pont, returned to work on the farm, following a stint in Otematata.
Mrs Pont said the owner of Tumai renewed their lease for a year or two at a time because she had a son due to come home.
“We were always on the back foot, never knowing how long we had,” Mrs Pont said.
During the lease rollovers, the family bought a 50ha bull unit in Goodwood, which included a home where the Laws lived.
The family also bought a 600ha farm, Sugarloaf, on the Rock and Pillar Range near Middlemarch in 2017.
Although the Ponts were establishing roots in Otago, they always considered themselves Southlanders.
Both of the Ponts attended Fiordland College in Te Anau, and dreamed of owning a farm in Western Southland.
With the lease of Tumai set to expire, a 923ha farm was advertised for sale in Eastern Bush, lying between Wairaki River and the Takitimu Mountain range, northwest of Otautau.
Buying the farm seemed like a pipe dream but they put in a conditional offer anyway.
The conditions included selling Sugarloaf and the bull unit in Goodwood for reasonable prices.
At the same time, the vendor in Eastern Bush was getting higher unconditional offers from people wanting to transform the farm from sheep and beef to forestry.
The vendors, Fraser and Sandra McKenzie, who were retiring and whose family had a long history of improving the land, did not want it to become forestry, Mrs Pont said.
In December last year, when the family got its final notice of their lease expiring, they doubted their offer in Western Southland would be accepted.
The family had made three offers on farms with the same conditions in the past 18 months and missed out on them all.
“If you are not competing against forestry directly, you are competing against people who have sold to forestry for big, big money and were cashed up ready to go.”
Despite their offer not being the biggest, the McKenzies accepted it.
“They went out on a limb considering we had two properties to sell and they knew nothing about us. They really stuck their neck out for us.”
Both Sugarloaf and Goodwood sold for prices required for the deal to proceed.
The feeling when the deal was complete was “mind-blowing”, Mrs Pont said.
Her family leased a farm for decades in Southland. It was a major milestone for the family to own one in the province.
Ownership of the farm was shared between the Laws and their three children Mrs Pont, Andrew Law, who manages syndicate farm North Range, near Lumsden and Becky Runga, who lives in Dunedin.
The new farm has two houses, the Ponts live in one and Tom and Sally Law live in the other.
On the farm they run 4800 Romney ewes including 250 stud ewes and 200 Angus cows and replacement stock.
For more than a decade after launching Waimara Angus, the family sold its bulls by private treaty.
The family held its first annual on-farm bull sale on Andy Denham’s farm Stoneburn Herefords, about 20km west of Palmerston, in 2012.
At the sale on Stoneburn last month, of the 26 Waimara Angus bulls on offer, 25 sold for an average of $7980 including a top price of $18,000 to Pukeatua Station in the Wairarapa.
At the sale, Mrs Pont, speaking to the crowd from inside the bull ring before the start of the sale, fought back tears when talking about her cousin Scott Clearwater,who died last month after battling cancer.
Mr Clearwater and his wife Joy farmed next door to the Laws in Goodwood.
She talked about the amazing opportunity given to her by the Clearwaters, when they sharefarmed cows for them.
“It’s a step we couldn’t have taken without them, it built us up to where we are today.”
She encouraged people at the sale to share stories about her cousin.
Mr Pont said the next sale might be an auction with a Helmsman system in the woolshed on the new farm, or they might have a joint sale with another stud, similar to the relationship with Stoneburn.
“We are throwing ideas around and seeing what we come up with,” Mr Pont said.
In her opening speech, Mrs Pont said as Mr Denham was launching an Angus stud in East Otago, they would return to the district for buying bulls.
“You won’t be seeing the last of us — we’ll be back,” she promised.
She thanked stud agent Roger Keach for working with the family for the past 50 years.
“Dad’s leaned on you a lot over the years and we wouldn’t have had the sale without Roger pushing it. Since Chris and I have come along in the last 10 years or so, Roger has been our go to, for anything from politics to bulls and everything in-between,” she said in her speech.
Talking to Southern Rural Life, she praised their accountant Justin Geddes, of CEG Accounting and her bank manager, Jackie Jones of BNZ, for having faith in them to invest in Middlemarch and Eastern Bush.
“We were turned down by two or three other banks and she said yes. She went out on a limb for us to have a crack.”
The family had an “awesome”16 years in East Otago but had always wanted to return to Southland.
From the farm the family once leased in Te Anau, they could see the Takitimu Mountains.
From the new farm, they could now see the other side of the range, Mrs Pont said.
“It feels like coming home.”