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Email spawns dairy venture

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Bannister Downs dairy entrepreneur Sue Daubney says the search for the right business partner was based upon a shared commitment to people, the environment and products over profit.

Speaking at the WA dairy conference last week, Mrs Daubney told attendees of her and husband Mat's long and sometimes troubled journey from a start-up niche dairy in 2005, to striking a deal last year and partnering with Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, to run a multimillion-dollar dairy business.

The Daubneys' story is an inspiration to the WA dairy industry, with the milk trailblazers turning a small and struggling family farm into an industry-leading business churning out 130,000 litres of premium environmentally conscious milk a week, into both the local and an emerging export market.

Under the terms of the deal with Mrs Rinehart, the Northcliffe business has begun the construction a milk processing plant costing more than $20 million.

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Mrs Rinehart's financial backing has also allowed the Daubneys to push ahead with plans to invest in what has been touted as Australia's most modern robotic dairy within the same complex.

Bannister Downs has reached the limit of its operating capacity and has new customers waiting after winning awards for its premium-quality milk and use of environmentally sustainable packaging.

Mrs Daubney said the search for the right investor for the business was a hard process.

She said the decision to take the plunge into more debt was based on a shared self-belief with her husband that they had a solid business plan to partner with someone that could also share the Daubneys' vision.

Little did Mr and Mrs Daubney realise, the groundwork for a future partnership lay in a friendship spawned from a congratulatory email from Mrs Rinehart in 2010.

"I had won the 40under40 business award that year," Mrs Daubney said.

After that email, the two businesswomen kept in contact, which eventually led to a dinner meeting in Busselton in January 2014, where global dairy trends were discussed.

"The process of involving a partner was also made possible because in 2012 we made the decision to create a new business structure that would assist to involve investors, separating a trading business from the farm assets," she said.

"By this time I had a clear vision of what an ideal partner for our business looked like and we were fortunate in that Mrs Rinehart turned out to be the ideal partner.

"I had a meeting in September 2014 at Hancock Prospecting and that was where the ball began to roll and on December 18, 2014 the agreement was completed."

Mrs Daubney said she and her husband looked forward to a bright future, now partnered with the right person.

"An investor in agriculture must understand agriculture," she said.

"Agriculture is not about quarterly figures but looking at them every year and then every three years."

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