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Case studies

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Farming Stories

Farms, farmers and farming families have been the focus of our work for over 30 years.

In that time we’ve seen a lot, and we’ve got many stories that we could tell about how to help farming families get what they want.


Our client had made good progress building up land holdings and farm scale. However, even with good management the farm was only breaking even as a dryland stock operation and was vulnerable to successive droughts. The owners recognised the potential for irrigation but had limited further borrowing capacity.

With our assistance the owners clarified their family generational goals. This confirmed the potential for capital growth and operational benefits if they could irrigate the farm.

We identified and facilitated a Joint Venture using another farmer’s money to kick start irrigation development. This subsequently provided a high value income stream to fund further irrigation development.

Annual reviews have keep a clear focus on the long term goals. Ten years in, 85% of the farm is irrigated. Production has diversified into arable cropping and accessing premium supply contracts. Our clients are starting to pay off debt and bringing the next generation into operational management.


As a fifth generation farmer our client has one main focus – to make the farm profitable and viable for future generations. He inherited a large scale farm that was consistently losing money. It was significantly run-down and lacking adequate infrastructure and genetics to support high performance farming. There was little effective control over finances or direction.

To address these issues, we assembled an informal advisory board of finance, accounting and legal professionals to fully support him.  The first stage of this process was for the advisory board, in conjunction with our client, to collectively agree and document the strategy required to rapidly turn the business around. Clear short and long term goals were set which included restructuring of debt and reorganisation of finances and reporting systems.

Our role in this solution is to chair and coordinate the advisory board and make sure that the right information is getting to the right people. We meet with the owner monthly to discuss and review all operational matters. A key to success of this system is to measure and monitor just enough business performance indicators so that we know that the business is on track and to provide early warning of potential problems, and identifying opportunities

Eight years in, the cash losses have stopped, gross income has quadrupled, and cash surpluses are being reinvested in development of the farm. While there is a way to go, our client values the support and structure that allows him to focus on what he is best at doing, knowing that the team keeps all other aspects going.


Our client family farms a highly productive property on very high quality soils. They had been very focused on production, achieving top 5% yields and attracting premium level contracts. They however weren’t always achieving the net cash results to match their levels of production.

Dunham Consulting was brought in to work alongside the owners to analyse and advise the business on enterprise selection, returns on capital, the use of labour, and to consider complementary farming systems.

Working with the owners we initially helped them clarify what they were trying to achieve and the outcomes they wanted for the family. Based on this long term targets were set for debt levels, returns on investment, risk management, and supply contract partnerships.

Although our clients collected lots of farm information, it didn’t always speak to the business & family goals. We established fewer, but more specific, internal farm performance benchmarks that apply directly to the long term goals. Dunham Consulting chair monthly family meeting with agendas to keep activity focused on the long term goals, and make sure that everyone is working to their strengths.

After six years the shift in focus and feedback has resulted in a greater than 40% increase in enterprise gross margins. Working capital has been released leading to improving returns on capital. This increased financial performance has now enabled the family to consider expansion opportunities.

Working with Investors

Most investors have multiple reasons for involving themselves in New Zealand agriculture. Getting good outcomes can be challenging because of this. We’ve worked successfully on many projects over the years and helped people make good decisions that have delivered good outcomes.

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After an Australian businessman purchased a large scale stock farm in New Zealand he initially ran the farm business alongside his other corporate interests. When this wasn’t delivering the results he needed, he contacted Dunham Consulting with a “fix it or I will sell it” brief.

We prepared a detailed feasibility study identifying capital investment strategies, opportunities to change farm policy, production targets, staff review, and operational budgets. Based on the potential identified in this appraisal we were engaged to supervise the implementation of the agreed development and business plan.

Our supervision services included recruitment and selection of new farm managers, management of all operational financial transactions, detailed development planning and supervision of implementation, regular quarterly Board reporting and liaison with suppliers, contractors and other professionals.

Opportunities to buy additional farms were identified to increase scale and reduce climatic risk. These purchases required full due diligence and Overseas Investment Office approvals, which were successful.

Our client continued his investment for a total of 13 years. Over that time stock numbers increased five-fold, and per unit production increased by 30%. When our very satisfied client sold the properties he was able to nearly double the value of his investment.


Our client farmed three leased properties. Deciding that his equity was better spent on more lease land than buying a small farm he engaged Dunham Consulting for help expand his operation.

We undertook a detailed analysis of the current farms and identified where the greatest leverage and greatest risks lay. This provided us with the basis for a scoring system to assess the relative merits of prospective new lease farms.

We identified suitable locations and farms and after a nation-wide search, three were selected and due diligence undertaken. Non- traditional leases were negotiated to provide the farm owners with greater returns, while the lessee was able to lower risk and achieve more reliable revenues.

Our client now operates six widely distributed leased farms. This diversity takes some creative management so we work with the managers on all six farms acting as a central bureau, co-ordinating farm performance records and enterprise analysis. We conduct monthly “meetings” held by skype and phone between farm managers.

Our knowledge of farming systems and regional benchmarks has helped our client gain the confidence to expand his farming operation and build equity.


When a North American farmer and recreational hunter contacted us about buying an undeveloped high country farm, he knew that he needed local knowledge to make a successful integrated farm & hunting business work. We undertook an extensive analysis to work out exactly what he wanted to achieve and what type of farm and farming system would best work long term.

A search was commenced to identify locations and potential properties for him to consider including those not on the market. We identified an opportunity to form a joint venture with a NZ farmer with a suitable property who needed capital for development. Due diligence was carried out and a Joint Venture Agreement negotiated.

Our client’s investment required the approval of New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office (OIO). We provided the required budgets and development plans and successfully guided our client through the application and approval process.

We continue to support the successful governance of this venture. We meet quarterly with the New Zealand farmer/partner in an oversight role to discuss and adjust the development plans and budget as required. This includes documenting activities for OIO. We chair informal board meetings with the partners six-monthly, preparing minutes and budgets.

After eleven years there has been significant development of the farm with better stock unit scale and balance. The hunting operation contributes to the net cash farm result as well as producing a steady flow of high quality trophy animals.

Working with other advisers

The complexity of modern farming businesses means that getting input from specialists is essential.
We work in with other trusted advisers to provide the farming systems knowledge and experience that leads to good decisions and confident clients.


Our client had successfully grown his farming business over a number of decades by buying and selling a series of farms, often converting them from one use to another. He was now looking to pass the farm operations to the next generation.

While supporting the intentions of their client, his bank was keen to increase the quality of financial reporting and management structure around the farm business. It was recognised that this would be important in achieving a successful transition between the father and his sons.

Dunham Consulting was invited to participate in this process. An advisory board was created including the family members, banker, accountant, lawyer and ourselves. This advisory board provides an appropriate level of governance and oversight to the enterprise. Quarterly board meeting are creating good discipline. Issues are debated and finalised at the table with key decisions documented for future reference.

In addition to coordinating the advisory board and chairing meetings our role is to work with the farmer to develop management roles for the sons and coach them as they develop and grow into these roles. We facilitate the preparation of budgets that everyone contributes to and agrees with.  We provide oversight to production and development targets.

Knotty farm problems untangle barbed wire mess

Our client was facing one of the most difficult challenges for a farming family; a relationship breakdown between the husband and wife combined with a business that had significant debt from growth. This was a large scale family enterprise with five sons under 25 who all wanted to go farming. How were they going to keep the farm viable and retain ownership in the family?

Their farm accountant approached us looking for fresh and independent thinking about how move forward. He was looking for someone who was able to deal with the people issues as well as the planning and technical challenges, and who would work with him to help the family achieve their goals.

What did we do? Using a combination of interviews and questionnaires we worked to understand what each family member wanted, short and long term. We then took them through a series of family meetings to bring out strengths and interests, and how together they could benefit the whole family business. The main output from this process was an agreed plan for the family and the farm business which included clear financial and production goals.  Roles and responsibilities were agreed and formally appointed. We set up and continue to chair a monthly family meeting that monitors financial performance, reports on activities, organises work plans and addresses the inevitable challenges that arise along the way.

With the accountant we developed a cloud based financial reporting system that keeps everyone informed. All farm financial records and business records are made available via cloud, and work hours recorded, so everything is transparent.


The key advisor to the owners of this complex stock and cropping farming operation is the farm accountant, along with their banker and lawyer. The farm accountant had previously been working with a farm advisor but communications between the various parties and alignment of farming activities with business goals had proved problematic.

The extended family own several farm properties. Three generations are represented in the ownership group as well as a number of Trusts and their Trustees. At least two of the farm managers are also members of the ownership group and most owners have opinions about, and wish to contribute to business decision making.

We were asked by the farm accountant to work with him as a member of his professional advisory team. Our role is to contribute our farm systems expertise and ability to implement effective farm strategy. We help him and the client group develop policy changes and supervise them in a coordinated planned manner. A key focus is properly documenting plans and actions. We work with the farm managers, but report to the accountant and provide advice to the quarterly family board meetings chaired by the accountant.

The accountant needed a collaborative team approach with lots of open communication to ensure a smooth and successful operation. This governance and management structure allows the farm managers to focus on what they are good at, and reassures the governance group that the farm policy is on the right track and their views are being taken into account.

After two years, we have been able to speed up production improvement and gain approval for increased farm investment. As farm systems and monitoring are getting bedded in we are able to spend less time on farm, but continue to monitor and discuss farm activities weekly with accountant and managers.