Judges arrived today at the first of the three 2019 Ahuwhenua Trophy red meat farming finalists – Whangara Farms sheep and beef operation, near Gisborne, run by a partnership of three Māori incorporations.
Over 45,000 stock units (SUs) of sheep and 30,000 SUs of cattle run at Whangara over 8,500 hectares (6,900 effective) on a good balance of flat and steep land with a mix of soils – silt loam, sandy loam, Taupo airfall tephra and alluvium. There are 17 full-time employees in the Partnership.
In 2006, Whangara B5 and Pakarae A and Other Blocks formed the original partnership, explains the farm’s chair Ingrid Collins. In 2015, Tapuwae Whitiwhiti joined and Whangara Farms Partnership was established. This effectively brought the three major incorporations of Ngāti Konohi back under one management system, she says.
The partnership allows the three partners to join commercially, but also retain their own identity. Ownership of the land was not transferred. Rather it was placed at the use of the partnership. This results in each Incorporation retaining their lands, their own share register and effectively their own autonomy.
Whangara Farm’s vision is to be “an outstanding business delivering on-going sustainable returns”.
“We moved away from using the word agribusiness to business as we look to develop our commercial activities to be wider then just agriculture,” says Collins, adding Whangara Farms management is strongly-based on using science, technology and data collection to improve decision making.
The partnership has developed comprehensive Land Environment Plans (LEPs) for all of its five business units and the documents now play an important part in planning activities.
“Prior to completing these reports, we had developed a pole and willow tree nursery. We are now looking to develop nurseries on each of the five business units. We recently resolved to retire 400ha of coastal property and let this revert following the recommendation in the Land Environment Plan.”
Collins says the team commits to a Values Day with all staff and 24 governance representatives.
“These are invaluable in getting our total team together to work through what is important as values to each participant. At the 2017 Values Day we also brought in a local historian who spoke about some of the places of significance on the properties, what are the signs of previous occupation on the lands and how the old people would have farmed the land. This provided some important insights to all in attendance.”
The three partners predominately meet social responsibilities. They collectively support Whangara marae, four other marae in the rohe (territory), Whangara Church, and the local rescue helicopter service. In addition to this, Whangara Farms supports community activities such as Dog Trials (with the 2018 National Dog Trials being held at Whitiwhiti), projects with Whangara School and horse sports.
Whangara Farms was the first farm outside Europe to be awarded Flagship Status last year in the McDonalds sustainable beef project – just the twenty-eighth internationally to attain that status – for excellence in sustainability and that the LEPs are in place and implemented.
The operation has also been a significant contributor to research and development in the region. Whangara Farms has been a Beef and Lamb demonstration farm, Beef and Lamb innovation farm, Beef+ Lamb NZ beef progeny test site, Farm IQ focus farm, AgResearch pasture plot trials and forage plot trials.
“In all we have held over 30 field days for the local community in the past 10 years,” says Collins.
The Ahuwhenua Trophy is the most prestigious award for excellence in Māori farming and was inaugurated in 1933 by the renowned Māori Leader, Sir Apirana Ngata and the Governor General at the time, Lord Bledisloe. The objective was and still is to encourage Māori farmers to improve their land and their overall farming position as kaitiaki (guardians). On a three-year rotational basis, the Trophy is competed for by Māori farmers in the sheep and beef, horticulture and dairy sectors. The 2019 Ahuwhenua Trophy will be presented at a Gala Dinner on 24 May in Gisborne.