Brunswick family ahead of the game

The West Australian
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There's not much the Partridge family doesn't know about cows.

After 125 years in the dairy and beef industry, this Brunswick family is well known for their constant innovation and ability to evolve their business to be ahead of the game.

Michael Partridge believes while he lives in a beautiful part of the world, it's the people who make a business work, not the dirt beneath his feet.

"The farm is a special place - it's very picturesque and it's in a good area of the State, it's been very good to our family over 125 years," Michael said.

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"But a farm itself doesn't produce wealth, it's what you do to it and the production systems you put in place that create that wealth.

"It's nice to see everything that is on the farm today is due to the hard work of the people here now and the people before us, and the decisions they've made over 125 years."

Michael is a fourth-generation farmer and, together with his wife Leanne and children Oaklee and Harrison, he farms the now expanded property of 650ha.

His great-grandfather John Partridge first took up 121ha of uncleared land in the Brunswick Junction district in 1887.

John's youngest son Walter took over the business after war service in France in the early 1920s.

John began the business by hand-milking just three cows and, 125 years on, Michael now milks 600 cows each day supplying five million litres of milk to the WA market every year.

The farm has also diversified into veal and the White Rocks label is sold exclusively through Mondo Meats, a successful alliance between two family owned businesses, receiving national accolades.

The business is so steeped in history that Michael's mother, Elizabeth, has set up a museum on the property.

Michael's father and well-known industry identity David Partridge doesn't hold back in extolling the virtues of the family farm formula as a successful business model.

His experiences since he first came back to the farm in 1949 have taught him that the family farming structure can not only survive the ups and downs of a cyclical industry, but can thrive and provide a good lifestyle for many generations.

But David admits a successful family farming business, carried over many generations, is rare.

He said he believed only 8 per cent of all family farm businesses made it into the fourth generation.

"This business has got into the fourth generation and I'm hoping it will be handed onto the fifth," he said. "But for any family farming business to succeed in the long term there has to be a lot of tolerance within the family. It's very hard for a young man when he leaves school, if he has to live with his family and also work for them.

"Many family farms fail because the younger generation isn't given any control until they are 50 or so.

"My dad gave my brother and I serious responsibility when we were in our early 20s.

"He watched us make some expensive mistakes, but I made up my mind to do the same with my boys."

David said the farm had changed dramatically since he and his brother Ian first began work on the property in the late 1940s.

"I never questioned that we would go back on the farm," he said.

"When I left school we were milking 60 to70 cows seasonally, just for butter fat, we had no irrigation and we had no milk contracts."

Both Michael and David are passionate about the future of the dairy industry, both serving in State and national representative roles.

As the current vice-president of WAFarmers dairy section, Michael is an outspoken critic of the big supermarkets and their attempt to devalue food and therefore the worth of farmers.

"Getting involved in agri-politics is not a choice that you make, it just happens, you have to speak up," he said.

"I think more people in the farming industry across the entire sector, dairy, grains, everything, have to get more involved and support their organisations because we have a very weak position since we are individual family businesses."

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