Mark looks at managing risk while capitalising on opportunity
DELATITE Station owner, Mark Ritchie, likes to buck the trend when it comes to managing risk and opportunity.
In the 1990s – when gloom surrounded the price of wool - the family farm invested in sheep.
Years later when the cattle market was low they bought more cattle.
“We’re a bit counter-cyclical,” Mr Ritchie said.
“Where we see an opportunity to buy or trade stock we do that - often if we’ve seen a market downturn we’ve used that opportunity.
“In the early 1990s when the reserve price scheme for wool was unwinding, it was all doom and gloom but that was when we got into wool.
“Then we increased the size of our cattle herd when we thought the market was at a bit of a low point.”
Mr Ritchie manages a selfreplacing flock of 18,600 Merino sheep and 1100 Angus cows on 2600 hectares out at Booroolite.
The famous Delatite Station has been in the Ritchie family for 110 years, and Mark is the fourth generation to take the reins.
“Everyone has their own tolerance or appetite for risk,” he said. “No two farmers are the same. “For us, it’s about taking a long term view and finding a balance between taking calculated risks when the odds are in your favour; backing yourself and looking for opportunities in any situation; whether it’s a strong market or a weak market, a good season or a bad season.
“You don’t get it right every time,” he added.
The Ritchie family has traditionally discussed options, called on consultants for expert advice, but ultimately made the decision themselves.
Recently, the strong market for grazing enterprises has led Mr Ritchie to cash in.
“In the last financial year we decided to sell a few extra cattle to capitalise on the prices, and we will again this year if the prices continue,” he said.
The farm has ryegrass and clover pastures with a bit of phalaris and as with stock numbers, Mr Ritchie is always looking for opportunities to improve.
“We’re constantly trying to improve our pastures by sowing more phalaris whenever we can,” he said.
“At Mansfield, we have a number of natural advantages that we must exploit; quality soils and a relatively consistent rainfall.
“We have gone down the path of running a high stocking rate farm with a spring calving self-replacing herd of Angus females plus a spring lambing flock of self-replacing fine wool merinos.”
Mr Ritchie said stocking rate had continually proven to be one of the main drivers of profitability for grazing enterprises.
“Over the years we have spent considerable time, money and effort in maximising our stocking rate and the productivity of our farm, particularly in capital applications of fertiliser and lime, pasture improvement programs, improved genetics, retaining livestock and targeted capital expenditure,” he said.
“We find if the stocking rate is set appropriately and you have one eye on costs and labour efficiency, a low cost of production will follow.”
The current season has been good so far, but a lack of moisture in the soil and run-off was, Mr Ritchie said, beginning to play on the mind of farmers.
“Everyone’s a little bit nervous and hoping for good spring rains,” he said.
INDUSTRY LEADER: Mark Ritchie spoke recently at the Grassland Societies’ annual conference in Nagambie, talking about the grazing practices behind one of North East Victoria’s most iconic properties, Delatite Station.