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John and Paul Hickman

John says Flaxbourne Station was known as the first great sheep run of the South Island and is in a traditionally very dry part of the country. The area experiences an evaporation rate twice that of its annual rainfall, hence the success of the nearby salt works, where salt is formed via pond evaporation.

While traditionally a sheep and beef property, the growing of small seeds, like Llucerne, has met with success, and now vineyards have started to encroach on the rolling countryside.

Taimate is owned by John and his wife Andrea, along with brother, Paul, and his wife Nadine. The couples have three and four children respectively.

Paul and Nadine’s primary focus is Taimate Angus, with the aim of becoming one of the most recognisable, trusted and high performing cattle studs in the country.

John and Andrea focus on growing Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on 25 hectares, in two vineyards on the property. 

Securing water for irrigation has been a game changer, enabling the property to support both families and providing opportunities for the future.  They have purchased additional land in the last few years, including a vineyard with river access, providing the link to water for the rest of the farm.

"We operate the business as two enterprises but under one common family structure so that, although each has their own side to the business, it remains a consolidated unit for the future of the family."

“The vineyard developments are growing, thanks to a large investment into irrigation water for the property.

In the last few years, water consents have been acquired and a large earthen dam (270,000m3) is currently being built,” John says. 

The plan is to expand the vineyard area, within the current farm footprint, to be 85ha in the next two years.

“We had some small dams and used them to set up the initial 11ha of vineyard, planted in 2006. We’ve had 12 years of growing and I have the confidence now it can be profitable and to take it a step further.” 

Diversification key to future

Sheep, beef and cropping are essentially the core of the business for the Hickmans, and may always be, but John says there are other potential strings to add to the bow.

“Aside from a general goal of business success, the primary aim is to create opportunities for future generations of the family."

“Caring for the land and what we have is paramount to being able to hand as many options to our children, so that they may also become an extended part of the Taimate history,” John explains.

“Hard work but, more importantly, smart work and an ability to grab opportunities as they arise are keys to that goal.” 

Future plans include tourism and environmental success, as well as finished product delivery to market.

“We are predominantly a supplier (of grapes) but we have just started supplying a winemaker who is making single-vineyard wine, using our fruit. It’s small steps, and we have been concentrated on the development side and getting the growing potential right, but we would eventually like to look at marketing our own product one day.

“We have an eye to a finished product as the end game. That could also tie in with tourism and other things we’re looking at.” 

While irrigation is not used for stock purposes, John says they will have more water than needed for the vineyard and will explore other cropping options in the future.

“It’s about providing options. Without water, we are pretty limited we couldn’t have done the viticulture and I couldn’t be on the farm, it would have been a one-family unit. Now we have a huge array of options for the future.” 

A valuable banking partner

The Hickmans have been with Rabobank for nearly 10 years and John says they couldn’t have got where they are today without the bank.

He says the bank has supported them immensely and played a key role from the start.

“The ability to sit down and discuss plans, create scenarios and work through ideas effortlessly and easily has created an ability to get things done when they need to be done.

“The ability to call or meet and discuss the business openly is a comfort we are glad to have. Andrew Nation, our local manager, has been a great source of useful insights and know-how, as well as someone that firmly grasps who we are and where we want to go.” 

John says knowledge of both farming and local farming systems is essential to understanding their operation. “Rabobank have certainly excelled in the provision of quality people for us.” 

With both sides of the business growing rapidly in the last six to eight years, and even bigger plans in the pipeline for the next six to eight years, Rabobank has been a critical element in realising their dreams, John says.

“Without the levels of support shown and ability to share our vision, we would never be in the position we are now".

“A great business requires sound input, but it also requires a robust understanding and ability to look at things from all angles. Without a good relationship, it would be very hard to get the credible insights and understanding to make concrete decisions – Rabobank has certainly provided us with plenty of business concrete.