PRINCESS Royal Station has been an iconic part of the Mid North landscape in South Australia since the 1850s and after being in the hands of the Rowe family for 20 years, the next generation are about to bring one of state's largest farming operations into the future.
Totaling 26,315 hectares, the family operation spans from Burra through to the northern Flinders Ranges and comprises of Mackerode Homestead, Wertaloona Station and Princess Royal Station.
Owner Simon Rowe and his three children Katherine, Bec and Jack have hands-on roles within the business.
Simon has a long history of working in cattle feedlots and meat processing after he and his father Bob co-owned T&R Pastoral with the Thomas family. It was once the country's largest family-owned red meat processor.
"In 2010 we sold out of T&R Pastoral after beginning the process of building up the acquisition of Princess Royal Station and surrounding properties since the early 2000s," Simon said.
The business was eventually divisionalised into a large-scale cattle feedlot and cropping enterprise and, livestock and transport.
The cropping and cattle breeding operations feed directly into sustaining the feedlot.
"You can run a feedlot on its own as a standalone business but having your own cropping gives assurity of feed supply," Simon said.
"If we can grow about a third of what we need for the feedlot, apart from growing cost, that is less input into feed costs," he said.
"Most importantly we are not at the whim of the feed market prices."
Cropping manager Shaun Rayson looks after about 8900ha of wheat, barley, canola, hay and silage and, a further 7800ha of leased country near Burra.
Simon said only the canola was sold domestically.
"The graingrowing is a means to an end for the feedlot. We only grow grains that are suited for the feedlot," he said.
"We aim to produce about 30 per cent of our feed needs. Estimates this year, providing we have an average season, are about 33,000 tonnes."
The feedlot is managed by Chris Drew and it runs about 13,000 cattle. This amount turns over about four times a year.
Simon said the feedlot was about to enter an expansion phase.
"Stage three of the feedlot has been approved for development and it will allow up to 18,000 cattle," he said.
Simon's son Jack returned to the family business in 2011 after he finished high school and Jack helps operate the cattle trading sector of the business.
"We buy cattle directly on-farm and at the major weaner sales," Jack said.
"But we have our own breeding program too.
We have about 1500 breeders near Burra and about 6000 breeders at Wertaloona but we have destocked heavily this year because of the drought," he said.
The self-replacing herd is ran at Wertaloona Station that covers about 2570 square kilometres.
"The breeding program's steers and heifers go into the feedlot but the good heifers go back into the main herd," Jack said.
Princess Royal also has its own fleet of transport trucks and its managed by Luke Bavistock.
"We have always had our own transport because it is convenient and it gives us more control in the supply chain," he said.
To ensure multiple sectors of a business operate smoothly, Simon believed the key was consistent communication.
"We have a lot of family meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page," he said.
Simon said it was a natural progression for his children to be involved in safeguarding the future of Princess Royal.
"It was up to them if they wanted to run with the ball on the business or not, but it was a good opportunity for them to be apart of a major business," he said.
His daughter Bec returned home to the farm in 2016.
"I finished a degree in business management and marketing but we were allowed to follow our own individual path," she said.
Bec helps to orchestrate Princess Royal's marketing and feedlot sectors.
"We are still learning the ropes of the entire business. We are undertaking development mentoring sessions to help us bring the business into the future," she said.
"Dad's succession plan began last year and all three of us want to keep the Princess Royal legacy running because it would be sad if it was to fall apart."
Bec's sister Katherine also completed a degree in business management and marketing and returned home to the farm in 2011.
Katherine operates the administration and workplace health and safety department of the business.
"We are all basically on a pretty intense graduate program to prepare for running the business successfully," she said.
"But we have been running around feedlots since we were born so it will all come together."
With retirement on the horizon for Simon preparing his children to maintain the business was paramount to its future success.
"Like most pastoral businesses the siblings cannot afford to buy it, so a succession plan must involve it being passed on for them to take it on and for it to prosper," he said.
"International investment into rural Australia has happened for many years so I would like to believe we will be able to maintain Princess Royal and keep it in the family for generations to come."
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