Making hay while the sun shines for Gilmac

Gilmac held its inaugural Employee Service Recognition Awards last week, to recognise the contributions from long-term employees. Founder Peter Mackie (top left) is with the Gilmac employees whose years of service were recognised, rear: Margaret Merema (rear row), Peter Hazelden, Johan Van Der Walt, John Hooper, (bottom left) Teresa Nottle, Adam Hooper, Bernie Jones and Victorino Jumaquio.
Gilmac held its inaugural Employee Service Recognition Awards last week, to recognise the contributions from long-term employees. Founder Peter Mackie (top left) is with the Gilmac employees whose years of service were recognised, rear: Margaret Merema (rear row), Peter Hazelden, Johan Van Der Walt, John Hooper, (bottom left) Teresa Nottle, Adam Hooper, Bernie Jones and Victorino Jumaquio.

GILMAC founder Peter Mackie never dreamt how successful his company would become 31 years on.

Coming from humble beginnings, Mr Mackie established Gilmac, an export hay pressing plant at his New Norcia farm, 140 kilometres north of Perth, in 1987.

His hopes for the business then were to last at least two years to earn his initial investment back and possibly last five years to turn a profit.

"I never thought it would still be going, because it almost sounds crazy to ship grass halfway around the world to feed cows, it might be more economical to send milk," Mr Mackie said.

"I leased a machine the first season in October 1987 from Pederick Engineering in Wagin, took that home to New Norcia and got the first container out on the last week of November, 1987.

"I worked pretty hard getting 1200 tonnes out by March, that was all the hay we had.

"I then proceeded to ask the customers if they would give me a 3000t contract for the following year, which they did, so I had a new machine designed, but it didn't work too well and we only got 2700t out that year.

"That machine only lasted a couple of years until we scrapped it and built a replacement machine that was very successful, only retiring in 2006, so it did 17 years."

In 1988, Gilmac exported its first shipments of hay to Japan and by the mid 1980s Gilmac's Mackie hay had become renowned in the Japanese dairy industry.

Today, the company has six sites spread across Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria.

In 1993 Gilmac opened its second pressing plant at Balaklava, South Australia and in 1998 third and fourth plants were opened at York, in WA and in 2001 at Goornong, Victoria.

Gilmac then opened a fifth plant at Wagin, and its newest greenfield site is St Arnaud, in Victoria.

The company held its inaugural Employee Service Recognition Awards last week, to recognise contributions made by its long-term employees.

Employees with five or more years of service were recognised with a framed certificate of appreciation from Mr Mackie, while employees with 10 or more years of service received a personalised letter of thanks from the company's founder and an Australian embossed gold bullion, representing the Australian origin and the 'Golden Bale'.

Administration officer, Margaret Merema, who has been with Gilmac for more than 17 years, started with the company as a cleaner when she moved to York.

Margaret Merema started off with Gilmac as a cleaner 17 years ago and now works as an administration officer.

Margaret Merema started off with Gilmac as a cleaner 17 years ago and now works as an administration officer.

"I applied for the cleaning job and it got me my foot in the door and it's gone from there," Ms Merema said.

"I used to work on the mines and I like the rural-type work and atmosphere and love not being locked in the office.

"It's kind of like a family here so it means a lot to us to have our years of service recognised, it's nice to feel appreciated."

Gilmac had employees that range from five to 20 years of service across its Australian sites and three employees are sitting at more than 25 years of service in WA.

Gilmac general manager Munro Patchett told Farm Weekly the primary values of the company were to treat employees, growers and customers fairly.

"Gilmac has been going for a long time now and over those years our growers have stuck with us, our customers have stuck with us and, just as important, our employees have stuck with us, some of whom have been with the company for more than 25 years," Mr Patchett said.

"We make sure we treat our growers fairly and they get a good return for the hay because we want our growers to be our growers forever.

"Our customers we treat the same, so in a year where there is allocation because there is a shortage of hay, everyone gets a fair allocation.

"Some of our customers have been with us for 30 years and plenty have been with us for 20-plus years, so it's vital that everybody gets treated fairly along the chain."

Last week the company had one of is long-term clients, Zen Trading, a dairy farmers co-operative in Japan, tour the plant.

Zen Trading has been a customer since day one, with the volume it bought last season one of the company's highest on record.

"Needless to say, we have a very strong relationship with this group, as we do with all of our customers," Mr Patchett said.

"Typically we have 20 customer groups a year come and visit our plant, some come to only one plant and while others visit all of our plants," he said.

The export hay industry exports 1.2mt annually.