For Hastings Valley cattle trader Jessie Stokes the chance to lease land has given him an opportunity to grow stock numbers and concentrate on trade.
"Leasing is cheaper than making repayments and the price of land on the coast has gone way up," he says, reflecting on the six years since he first took over a leased paddock at the age of 13.
"My job now is to find gaps in the market, look to buy stock and rear calves. I've had three calves on a good Jersey cow that I bought for meat prices. After three months I wean them and do it all again. If the old cow dries up she's off to the abattoirs. If not, I join her again.
"I look to buy cattle not quite as loved and I look after them and tidy them up and do a job with them."
During the drought Mr Stokes, in company with a couple dogs worth more than some men, managed to keep trading - 20 a week often at very low margins, but enough to keep the enterprise afloat.
Now that there's plenty of grass it has become a lot harder to get cattle.
At the Wauchope Steer and Bullock sale last Saturday Mr Stokes came away with the bargain of the bidding - a Jersey-cross steer calf for $510, almost $300 cheaper than a leggie Holsten the same age.
Margins on turnaround are slim.
"Some weeks it's average and others it's 'you beauty!' I'd like to go bigger, find more buyers."
His relationship with the landowner was also critically important.
He said mutual trust was a key aspect and price of agistment depended on the state of the fences and pasture.
"I repair the fences and look after the place like it was my own," Mr Stokes said, noting the use of portable panels made some of his paddock jobs logistically possible.
When it comes time to sell Mr Stokes uses the saleyards - that's where he met his partner Tamike Beard - but he also finds his own markets on Facebook and Gumtree and works the digital space just like the rest of his generation.
Leasing pays off
HISTORY is repeating itself in the Spicers Creek district just east of Wellington as the sons of two brothers have combined to form an extra business partnership, just like their fathers did not that many years before.
Joe and Sam Mason of Spicers Run have joined forces with their cousin, Matt Mason of Westwood (all on our cover), to lease two properties on the western side of town.
"The leasing is completely different to the rest of our businesses," Joe Mason said.
"It's actually similar to the operations of our fathers, Michael and Nick Mason, when they were managing our operations."
The Masons have leased part of New Oakleigh owned by their uncle Paul Mason, and adjoining property, Walmer, owned by John and Marion Trounce, both fronting the Renshaw-McGirr Way between Wellington and Yeoval.
"I'm not a big fan of leasing, but when you can without having to acquire any more equipment, it's a real bonus," Joe Mason said.
"It's worked out really well and that makes a huge difference when you get on so well with the property owners. John Trounce can't help us enough and uncle Paul is the same."
Some pitfalls of leasing I hear, Mr Mason says, includes when both parties not well aligned, which can lead to butting heads a bit about who's getting the better deal.
"But we are very fortunate. We are lucky that we can utilise much of the existing infrastructure, machinery and plant which allows us to make more efficient use of our capital," Mr Mason said.
"There are a lot of things working in our favour. Both John Trounce and my uncle Paul are really good to deal with. Paul has a bit of spare capacity with his machinery which he lets us use and he does a bit of contract farming for us."
The Masons had two really dry seasons to kick off their leases in 2018 and 2019 which made it hard, especially with the lease payments to come out of the operation.
"But we kicked a bit of a goal this past year."
They are running 2500 first-cross ewes that are joined to Poll Dorset rams on the lease country, plus additional cropping acreage of about 405 hectares.
Leasing fits well for Joe Mason.
"It's an opportunity when the owner is a person you have a good working relationship with. It is working well for all of us I believe - lessors and lessees."
Love agricultural news? Sign up for The Land's free daily newsletter