CENTURY-OLD wool and agricultural company AJ & PA McBride has a long-term strategic plan to work toward a 10,000-bale clip under new chairman Nick McBride.
The fifth-generation director was appointed last month to lead the company into its eleventh decade as it undergoes generational change, but with a continued focus on family values into its second century of operation.
Nick’s appointment, after serving as a director since 2006, follows the retirement of Keith McBride after 31 years of service, including 16 years as its chair.
The McBride operation currently shears about 300,000 mostly Merino sheep – making it among the top wool volume producers in Australia — and is budgeting on about 8,000 bales this year, marketing through three long-term broker relationships. The McBride family operates ten properties totalling about 1.4 million hectares in south-east and pastoral areas of South Australia as well as western Victoria.
Nick said the McBride clip is mostly marketed through the auction system, but with a small percentage of the fine wool south-east of South Australian clip is sold to downstream producers of traceable apparel garments. This marketing option will be continually analysed, he said.
“The McBride plan is to continue to breed sheep with a major emphasis still on wool while still giving consideration to the meat element.
“But also knowing that there is a pastoral element to our clip of 20-21 micron and for the southern higher rainfall properties with a finer end between 17-19 micron range and maybe even down to 16 micron,” he said.
“That emphasis won’t change.”
There is also a crossbred prime lambing producing component to the McBride operation in the south using cull Merino ewes as dams and in northern South Australia SAMMs have been trialled on one property for the past 20 years.
Non-mulesing option will be trialled
Nick said the McBride operation will also be looking at its options with non-mulesing, with trials commencing in 2022 on two South Australian properties, one in the northern pastoral area and one in the high rainfall south-east.
He said non-mulesing will be trialled in certain lines of sheep and the marketing options and management requirements will be analysed.
“It is something that we should be trialling to see how it will affect us and what the costs are.”
Nick said the operation had benchmarked its sheep operations for many years and knew its profit and cost factors.
“We do have a system now with the ten properties, that we are measuring and we know their financial figures very well, unlike 20 years ago, and it would be very easy to see with the different styles of management and costs of production if non-mulesing stacks up or not, both financially and from an animal health point of view.”
McBride aims to be an employer of choice
In a period of industry challenges, including rural labour shortages, rising costs of living, global instability and exotic disease threats, Nick said the operation has focussed on being regarded as an employer of choice among workers.
“We’ve had major upgrades of our facilities and our sheds.
“One of the first sheds that we turned around was the Konetta Station wool shed, a 12-stander brand new in 2011-12,” he said.
“We actually sought industry advice about building a new shed and that business is now building more sheds than ever.”
Nick said McBride wanted to have the best facilities for its shearers, recognising that there is still money to be made in wool.
“Despite the fact it’s costing us $10 a sheep, sometimes more, if they are still cutting $50-$80 a fleece we can still make money from those sheep, so long as we can get the shearers in and we look after them and the job is done as easily and as methodically as it can be done.
“With that strategy, knowing that we cover most areas of South Australia, from the far north to the far south, we are recognising that we have to look after our staff with the facilities, including the contractors,” he said.
“We will be endeavouring to work with the shearing industry as much as we can in recognising that we are taking a valuable commodity off an animal, and it’s hard yakka that few want to perform in today’s world.
“We’ll be making sure if there are 1000 shearers left in Australia, those 1000 shearers will still come to McBride rather than say we are the first off the list.”
Business as usual to face headwinds
Nick said after 16 years on the company board it will basically be “business as usual.”
“But also, we are giving serious consideration to the headwinds — that is Foot and Mouth Disease, rising costs of production with fuel, labour, fertiliser, shearing costs – to stay ahead of these.
“Interests rates and the cost of money is also going to affect us, so we will make sure that we manage that to stay a conservative but aggressive company, knowing where our profits lie, and to continue to grow the business and strive toward that 10,000-bale strategic plan that we have,” he said.
Nick has served the farming industry and his community in south east South Australia as the member for MacKillop in the South Australian Parliament since 2018.
“I am excited to take on the role of chairman at AJ & PA McBride Ltd and look forward to growing our company’s reputation for excellence and innovation into a new era of operations,” he said.
“Building on the exceptional leadership of outgoing chair Keith McBride is an honour.”
Despite the industry headwinds, Nick said AJ & PA McBride is in a good position and he is optimistic about the second century of the company.
New management changes
The company has also made other changes for the next chapter in its 102-year story.
McBride operations manager Lindsay Breeding is retiring after 41 years and Konetta Station manager Kingsley Breeding is finishing up after 44 years with the company.
The role of Konetta Station manager will be taken on by Romain Devaud and Anthony Uren is the company’s new operations manager, having been appointed February this year as part of the succession planning.
“Keith’s tenure, and three generations of service from the Breeding family are just two examples of the dedication and passion that AJ & PA McBride is built on,” Nick said.
“It is through their combined leadership that this company can progress from its strong position across its agricultural, horticultural and viticultural ventures and continue to support our staff, our animals and our community.”
Keith McBride’s position on the board has been assumed by daughter Jane McBride, who brings a wealth of experience from her role as communications manager (Australia and New Zealand) at leading grain company Viterra. Jane joins Nick as the second fifth generation director to serve on the company board.
For the first time in the company’s history, it has also appointed long-term chief financial officer and company secretary Nathan Wessling as its first chief executive officer.
“Having worked with AJ & PA McBride since 2001, including 12 years as its CFO, Nathan has a deep understanding of both the values and vision of the company and is the perfect person to guide our operation into the future,” Nick said.
McBride Station manager for the past 20 years, Drew Maxwell, has also been appointed the new general manager of Telopea Downs Station that spans the South Australia-Victoria border.
All company shares are still held by descendants of the McBride family founders and share the vision of retaining a strong, united and sustainable family company, Nick said.