When third-generation farmers Dan and Mandy Shand returned to the remote Island Hills Station in North Canterbury in 2002 they knew they would need to explore alternative forms of income to make the farm viable.
The Shand family had run sheep and Angus cattle on the 7000-hectare Hurunui farm at the head of the Mandamus River since 1928 – but the vast high country farmland was not very productive.
Even at school, Dan recognised the need to diversify income streams and completed a school project exploring tourism on the farm.
The couple decided to invest in honey production and agri-tourism.
A buzz about honey
“A friend suggested we try honey,” said Dan.
He quickly went from never having looked inside a hive to owning 400 hives.
“I read a book, borrowed money, and bought 400 hives from a local bee keeper.”
The bee keeper ran the hives on the farm for the first season and then Dan took over.
The Shand’s ran the business for 15 years. It grew into a 2000-hive operation employing six bee keepers and four staff in the shed in summer as other farmers wanted to have bees on their farm.
However, the Shand’s decided to sell in 2021 when a combination of immigration and housing policies alongside new honey regulations made the business more challenging and expensive to run.
Finding staff was difficult and we had no certainty, said Dan.
The Shand’s still run hives on the farm, but now have none of the responsibility.
Dan and Mandy built one of South Island’s first private walking tracks on the station and ran that for 10 years.
It took more than two years to cut the track and convert buildings for accommodation.
You need more infrastructure to run an agri-tourism business than most people realise, said Dan.
Building a track and accommodation takes a lot - but there is also the upkeep.
“It’s a huge commitment from a financial and time perspective,” he said.
The hours were long. Mandy would be up making muffins in the farm kitchen at 6am after waiting up until 9.30pm the night before for guests to arrive and settling them in.
“It’s pretty full on – and meeting the all the people was part of the fun.”
But it got harder as the kids got older, Dan said.
They ran the track for 10 years, but decided to close it in 2013. “I was ragged,” said Dan.
It was time consuming, didn’t leave them enough family time, and required someone to be on the farm all the time.
“We couldn’t go to weddings or funerals together,” Dan said.
However, the track re-opened a couple of years ago with rebranded offerings including multi-day guided and unguided walks as well as hunting packages run by a friend, Shaun Monk.
He runs his business on our land, said Dan.
“Shaun is a one-in-a-million. You need the right person and the right offering.
“We were already friends and got on well. I’d not thought of someone else running a business on the farm, but I could see it working,” said Dan.
Run for nature
Shaun was instrumental in organising the Skedaddle trail run through the farm as a fundraiser for conservation and predator trapping.
It attracted more than 400 entries with entry fees supporting conservation and pest eradication on the 600-hectare QE II open space covenant on the station.
Dan said it took an incredible effort from a lot of people and volunteers to make the trail run work.
“A trail run project is not worth thinking about unless you already have a track,” Dan said.
There are also a number of future exciting plans, including adding a mountain bike track on the farm.
Dan attributed his success at diversifying his farm’s income to a mix of luck and necessity – and the ability to identify opportunities before they became popular.
The Shand’s have recently employed a farm manager to free them up for new ideas and projects.
Dan plans to get his drone license and explore a seeding service for farms.
Helpful Tips from Dan and Mandy Shand
Think long and hard about diversifying.
You need to understand what motivates you – and to be determined to succeed.
Strong team work is crucial.
Good farming couples are more likely to succeed.
The Shand’s planned their family around the tourist season to make the walking track work.
Don’t do what everyone else is doing – do something different.
Work in cooperation with other businesses.
It is often a more sustainable option.
You need to choose between the international and domestic tourists. They are completely different markets.
Dan attributes his success to a mix of luck and necessity – and the ability to identify opportunities before they become popular.
by Sharon Davis