THE Lines family has more than 170 years of strong farming history in SA, and for sixth-generation Anthony Lines, their multi-faceted business at Laura in the state's Mid North is all about "keeping the family together".
Lines multiAg supports three families, with the eighth generation now growing up on-farm.
Anthony and Christine Lines run the business with sons Ashley, 28, and Bradley, 24, cropping 1800 hectares of owned land and about 600ha of leased/sharefarmed country.
They also manage five prime movers under the Lines MultiHaul banner and have a contract hay baling business in partnership with neighbours Fraser and Merrylin Smith.
Over the years we have had to make the most of the opportunities available to us.
Anthony said they had to think outside the box when it came to expanding the business, as land in the area was quite tightly held.
"Over the years we have had to make the most of the opportunities available to us," he said.
It is a culture that runs deep in the family, with Anthony's father Russell also running multiple businesses within the family operation to ensure its viability.
Where it all began
Russell's great-great-grandfather John Ayers Lines - an English farmer - emigrated to Australia in the 1850s and started farming in the Skilly Hills, near Auburn.
He married Elizabeth Williams and moved to a larger property in the Tarcowie area, which he named Byefield, after his home area in England.
He also registered the well-known Gum Hill Merino stud in 1885, which is run by another Lines family today at Mount Bryan.
In 1905, John's grandson Charles "Hurt" Lines married Helen "Nell" Johns and they had two sons - Roy in 1906 and Albert in 1908.
By the 1930s, they were farming at Gladstone, when Hurt retired and built a house in nearby High Street. He handed over the 260ha property to his two sons.
Roy married Maizie Martens in 1930, whose family were also farmers, mainly in the Port Pirie area. They had two children - Lois in 1931 and Russell in 1937.
In 1938, Roy sold the Gladstone farm to buy 190ha property Pine Vale at Laura.
Roy farmed there until his untimely death in 1939, when Russell was only two years old.
Russell said they deviated away from agriculture for a few years, with his mother leasing the farm out and they built a house in Fifth Street, Gladstone, to live in.
But after a stint in a motor garage in the early 1950s, teenager Russell went back to farming at Pine Vale full-time.
He married Phyllis Scott in 1959 and had three children - Suzanne, Deborah and Anthony.
Wanting to expand the family acreage, Russell sold Pine Vale to Jack Mills and moved to Bordertown in 1964.
But the wet climate was too much and the family moved back north the following year.
They lived at Warnertown, in his sister's spare farmhouse, and bought 800ha of cropping land at Kimba in 1967.
Locally, they also bought 270ha Pine Park at Laura from Mick Simms, who taught Russell everything he knew about agriculture.
In 1974, Russell built a new home at the Kimba property and moved there with the family, to farm as well as running Kimba Tractor Traders - an International Harvester dealership.
But by 1978, the pull to return home was too strong and the family moved back to Pine Park at Laura.
They bought Northern Machinery, in partnership with Barry and Valma Thomson, after selling Kimba Tractor Traders and the EP farm in 1979.
The partnership sold and repaired machinery until 2005, when Russell sold the family's share to Barry's son Roger.
Increasing farm focus
Russell's son Anthony returned home to farm at Pine Park in 1986, after attending Urrbrae Agricultural High School.
"Back then, Pine Park was only 270ha," Anthony said.
"Russell was running the farm, but also had Northern Machinery for supplementary income.
"I would come home for harvest and seeding, but I was often off shearing in the pastoral areas to make an income for myself."
Anthony met his wife Christine Goodwin from Wirrabara and they travelled together shearing and cooking for Pride and Clarke shearing contractors from Spalding, working mainly in the western division of NSW and eastern SA.
They had three children - Ashley, Bradley and Rebecca.
"When we got pregnant with Ashley, I began shearing more locally," Anthony said.
"I also got work on the local milk tankers, delivering to Port Pirie.
I used to do 27 (milk) pick-ups between Murraytown and Ardrossan and across to Clare, now there is only one dairy in the district.
"I used to do 27 pick-ups between Murraytown and Ardrossan and across to Clare, now there is only one dairy in the district."
Anthony and Christine also established a contract spraying business, covering up to 12,000ha, to help finance buying more country.
With his son and new family now firmly back in Laura, Russell also had expansion plans.
He sold the Mill Street house in Laura to re-purchase Pine Vale back from the Mills family in 1998, where he lived until 2016, while Anthony and family moved into Pine Park.
"At the time we were cropping, growing wheat, barley and legumes, while we also had sheep, cows and pigs," Anthony said.
"My first role when I came home from school was to take care of the pigs.
"We had built these portable pig sheds, which we moved about in the paddock, manuring the soil at the same time.
"That was Russell's way of getting me back on-farm, and to get more income from the small amount of land we had.
"But Russell was really the stock man, and when he began to take a step back from the farm, we slowly phased out the livestock side of the business.
"After shearing all those years, it made me lose interest in them."
Expanding for the next generation
Anthony said once they moved back to the farm, land expansion was the main focus.
"To really survive around here, you need about 2000ha of cropping land on your books, whether owned or leased," he said.
"So we slowly kept building up our land size, buying blocks of land here and there, as it is a pretty tightly-held area and the blocks aren't huge."
Today, 2200ha Lines multiAg is a continuous cropping operation, growing wheat, barley, canola, beans, peas and export hay on country around Napperby, Laura, Crystal Brook and "out the Appila Road".
"We do have to move about a lot, but it helps spread risk and broadens timing, by staggering out harvest and seeding across the properties," Anthony said.
"It is quite good country here, reliable sandy loams, but rainfall does peter out about an inch a mile from the hills."
Both Anthony's sons Ashley and Brad have also returned to the farm after attending Urrbrae.
Ashley came home in 2010 after Anthony had a serious dirt bike accident and was laid up in hospital in Adelaide with a broken back for three months.
"The farm didn't seem quite big enough then, but definitely by the time Brad came home in 2014 we realised we needed to expand the business further," Anthony said.
An opportunity came in 2012, when a friend asked Anthony to help out with his trucks for a month, servicing the gas fields in Moomba.
"It started out as just the one trip for a month, but that has since grown to four return trips a week year-round," he said.
Lines MultiHaul now comprises five prime movers, with two contracted full-time by Toll to freight from Moomba to Adelaide, and makes up about a third of the Lines' on-farm income.
"We really liked the trucking industry, because it wasn't weather-affected like cropping can be," Anthony said.
"Plus the boys can drive the trucks if drivers need a break and do all the mechanical servicing.
"It's also easier to employ people, because the work isn't seasonal like cropping is.
"It is a stable income, which helps in these tougher cropping years."
Anthony said the inclusion of the trucking business enabled the family to quit contract spraying.
"Contracting gets a bit tricky sometimes if you are also farming yourself, because you always want to get your own patch done, but you could often be doing someone else's," he said.
"We still offer contract harvesting services, but only if the timing permits."
Economies of scale
What did have better timing was contract hay baling, which the Lines family have been doing in partnership with neighbours Fraser and Merrylin Smith for the past eight years.
"Fraser had been doing my hay baling before that, but then with Ashley back on the farm I was keen to buy a baler myself, so he suggested maybe going into partnership," Anthony said.
"Hay SA grew from there."
They cut and bale about 8000 units a year, with their own bales sold to Balaklava hay exporters Balco and Gilmac.
Last year was a bumper one though, with about 10,000 bales cut due to frost damage and the dry season.
"The business works because of the amount of workforce we have," Anthony said.
"We have up to six of us in the paddock, which speeds up the process."
Contract hay baling has become about 20 per cent of the cropping business, but this year would grow to about 30pc because of the market for hay.
"If you can get 5 tonnes/ha, and prices are $250/bale-plus, it's good money and less risk than cropping," Anthony said.
He said while business was booming, he was concerned hay gluts would return, and soon.
"Obviously not this year or maybe the next, because of NSW demand and good prices, but one day we will have a problem again getting rid of our off-spec hay, because we have very little outlets for our non-export quality hay in this area," he said.
"As soon as we start pulling 6-10t/ha oat crops again, we will have a problem."
This year's cereal harvest averaged about 2.5t/ha, but can generally get up to 4t/ha.
"We just don't seem to jag that anymore with the rainfall we have been getting," Anthony said.
"Normally we would average about 460 millimetres in this region, when last year we only had about 280mm - that was the driest Russell had ever seen it in his lifetime, particularly after the dry two years prior.
"We got down to 800 kilograms/ha and our drier country was as good as our wet country this year.
"But that is still good considering - we had a really bad drought in 1982 when we didn't even get seed back."
The family has been no-till cropping for the past 20 years, with Russell saying the advances in technology had been the biggest change he had seen in his time as a "machinery man".
"It has been astounding the crops we are able to get on limited rainfall," he said.
"Going no-till has made a lot of difference."
With the lure of big dollars from mining being so close, Anthony was proud the boys stayed on the family farm.
Ashley and wife Laura now reside at Pine Vale, while Bradley and Amy live on an adjoining property with their 18-month-old son Theodore the eighth generation growing up on-farm.
Daughter Rebecca, 23, has also recently moved into primary production, taking over a family bee operation with partner Marty Ward eight months ago.
They manage 300 hives and "love it".
They also have eighth-generation son Banjo destined to be involved in primary production of some sort.
Russell moved off-farm in 2016, into the nursing home at Laura Hospital.
"He still rings every day to make sure we are working," Anthony said.
Anthony said succession has been relatively smooth, with all family members well supported.
"We could have gone our separate ways and have our little patches here and there, but I think we would have struggled to succeed," he said.
"Buying a header for exorbitant money, you need economies of scale and enough land to go reaping.
"This way, because we all work together, there is enough income for everybody.
"We allow family members to make a life of their own within the structure of the business, which seems to work for us."
The family is also constantly revising the business plan, particularly succession.
"We have plans to expand in size, but there is always tweaks every year because of the seasons and the consideration of grandchildren coming on board," Anthony said.
"We also talk about our plans to retire, which is creeping up way too quickly.
"Agriculture is such a family-friendly business, we just hope it remains a strong industry to be in, for the next generation and their children."
If you want to read more about other SA farming families from Stock Journal's Our Stories special feature click here.
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