Yorke Peninsula farmers Mark and Merridee Schilling have looked to business diversification as a way to secure their family’s future, by creating a number of successful offshoots to their cropping operation, which they can choose to scale up or down, or sell as it suits them.
This Schilling family has held land on Yorke Peninsula in South Australia since before 1925. AG Schilling & Co currently crop cereals and pulses on 2,500 hectares of owned, leased and shared farmed property. They see themselves as custodians of their family property and from early on, they’ve heard the message: “Don’t ever sell the land”.
So with the family land already marked to hand down, Mark and Merridee wanted to find other ways to fund their own retirement, ideally while supporting their neighbours and the broader industry.
“Mark can’t help himself,” Merridee says. “He is always coming up with new ideas. He has a knack of seeing ways to improve things, has a ‘can do’ attitude and just gets it done.”
One of their ventures is a plant-breeding program run with other shareholders. It has nine new varieties coming through the pipeline, all funded completely by industry, with no public money. One of those varieties is an ‘any time’ pea, which the Schillings are now growing commercially.
Another venture is their mouse-baiting business, which was launched largely as a way to do good by their neighbours.
“There were a lot of mouse issues around several years ago in this region, and the mouse bait prices were just astronomical,” Merridee says.
“We didn’t like the gouging. Mark was able to track down a bait licence and label that were established, but not being used, and we started the business to benefit ourselves and other farmers in the region.”
In addition to these businesses, Merridee and Mark import agricultural machinery, export grain, have a grain-cleaning business and lease a manufacturing stockfeed pellet mill.
Mark says it’s about being more than farmers. “We’re service providers” he says. “We’re passionate about what we do. Coronavirus has highlighted how Ag is resilient and essential. It’s the best gig in the world.”
He acknowledges that he couldn’t pursue all his ideas without a strong team behind him.
“I’m an ideas guy, but my attention span is about three seconds. You have to have a good efficient team behind you. Merridee is great at picking up the loose ends I leave behind me.”
He adds that CommBank is a critical partner, too.
“I’ve never looked at another bank because I’ve never needed to. When you have good relationships, it’s simple. Banking with CommBank brings us a level of security because we know they’ve got our back.”
To find out more about Merridee and Mark’s operation, which they run in partnership with Mark’s parents, visit www.agschilling.com.au/about-us/