A major health setback steered Stuart Kemp, former CEO of the Northern Territory Live Exporters Association, in a new direction. He’s now head of Victoria’s expanding Ball Agriculture. 

Story Terri Cowley  Photo Neil Newitt

In the rolling hills above the stunning Victorian property The Falls, sitting on a lump of lichen-smattered granite in the shadow of the Strathbogie Ranges, Stuart Kemp looks about as content as the plump wagyu cattle grazing in knee-deep, bright-green pasture around him. After a lifetime spent working in countless different facets of agriculture, Stuart has landed on his boot-clad feet as the chief executive officer of the Ball Agricultural Group, a family business producing top-quality beef, lamb and red wine.

“We’ve got good people; excellent infrastructure,” he enthuses. “The business is looking forward to putting its own label on some boxes of lamb and beef, which will be exported almost exclusively to China. We’re getting numbers stocked up and building our supply chain. We want to take what we’re doing and do it on a larger scale.”

It was serendipitous that the Ball family was looking for someone to take their enterprise to the next level at about the time Stuart was looking to get back to something more commercial, after three years of advocating for farmers as the CEO of the Northern Territory Live Exporters Association (NTLEA) in Darwin. “What I was missing was the commercial side,” he says. “Most of my board and peers were working in commercial, and I was in more of an agri-political advocacy role. It was making some real difference, but I’d rather make money for a business.”

So in mid-2018, Stuart packed up the family for what he describes as “a shocking change – to go from swimming in my pool to sitting by the fire”. He’s not entirely sure the family – wife Annette and children Patrick, 17, Lucy, 14, and Grace, 11 – has forgiven him yet. The weather may be different but not his aims. “What doesn’t change are the fundamentals. In the business of producing quality livestock, the drivers of production and success are much the same.” 

It’s an inspiring environment to work in. The Falls at Longwood East, just under two hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne, is centred on a stunning lake and magnificent European gardens with a waterfall that drops down a cliff behind the homestead. Ripened fruit is picked from 50-year-old vines to create the select Mullins and Ball shiraz, aged in oak and limited to 4000 bottles per vintage. The full-blood wagyu herd is derived from a selection of Tajima cows from Australia’s revered Blackmore herd. A herd of Angus is used in the company’s embryo-transfer and F1 programs to produce full-bloods for the breeding program. At nearby Molka, the company’s prime-lamb operation runs a traditional first-cross ewe flock joined to white suffolks and Poll Dorset rams across an aggregation of three properties now known as Balmullin. Each stream of the business has its own manager, with Stuart at the helm.

This story excerpt is from Issue #132

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2020