Giving back the land

Last updated 05:07 28/10/2012
Rick Braddock
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
GENTLEMAN FARMER: Rick Braddock says Kiwis need to get over the assumption that all New Zealand farms are ‘‘family-owned and want little Johnny to get his parents’ farm’’.

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Meet New Zealand's new stock of farmer. He doesn't own a farm. He lives in one of Auckland's poshest suburbs.

Corporate farmer Rick Braddock is not at all what you expect.

In a U-turn on history, this Pakeha from Remuera is embracing the idea of passing prized farms back to Maori through a new scholarship programme for city folk.

The Government granted him the lease to the 1340-hectare farm on Motutapu Island in 1992.

It is a little paradise of cattle, sheep, tui and a lonely takahe, just 11 kilometres from downtown Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf.

Braddock may not appear the typical farmer, but he's done his time - he studied at Lincoln University and worked on farms in the deep south during his 20s.

Working with the Conservation Department, he helped transform Motutapu Island from a weed-infested island overrun by wallabies to a pest-free biological farm.

Many people would be furious at giving up such an investment.

Braddock is not only accepting that one day he may leave this land; he is training up a generation of Maori to take over.

With the island's former residents, Ngai Tai, Braddock set up $37,500 scholarships to pass the farming know-how to young Auckland Maori who are more familiar with cellphones than tractors.

Ngai Tai chief negotiator James Brown said the scholarships offered Maori a leg-up on to the land. "We've had a generation who didn't farm, whatsoever. All these years later, in my role as chief negotiator, we now have opportunities to return to agriculture," Brown said

Estelle Harimate, 21, and Josh Wilson, 20, are the first recipients to swap the dole queue for greener pastures. Their whanau is supporting their move to the farming profession.

"My grandfather is really enthusiastic; he's got a strong connection to the land," Harimate said.

Motutapu Island is public land, but Maori could be granted a future lease to farm it under Auckland's Tamaki Collective settlement.

This is just one farm in a stream of Treaty of Waitangi settlements returning land to the original owners.

The problem is, more than a century after being pushed from their land, many Maori have lost the skills to farm.

Braddock said the country must recognise the importance of getting young Maori back on the land.

"I'm going to play my part. I'm very fortunate to farm Motutapu but I acknowledge I'm just a tenant. The land is not my farm, it's owned by all of us.

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"Iwi have rights which have now been acknowledged, so why don't I farm with them and start that by getting scholarships going."

Braddock is also director of Ngai Tahu Property Ltd, which has successfully profited from farms in the South Island.

Farms are increasing in size, complexity and cost, pushing them out of reach of family investors.

There were 22,000 sheep and beef farmers in 1985. Today there are 12,000.

Our farmers are getting older and their children are exiting the industry. Braddock said we can no longer rely on the old model of family ownership.

"We assume all our farms are family-owned and want little Johnny to get his parents' farm. I'm saying get over that - that's not reality and doesn't exist today."

This idea has courted him controversy, especially as he sees foreign investment as a key to sustaining New Zealand's agricultural economy.

There were whispers of local farmers being squeezed when he brought in foreign investors for Ingleby Farms.

Braddock doesn't buy this ideological attitude. New Zealanders must follow sound policy and view farming as a profession rather than family-owned business, he said.

"Farming is a fantastic profession, there's a whole lot of things to do in it. It's my profession and I don't own a farm.

"Most people don't own the companies they work for, so why is farming different from that?"

The scholarship recipients may not own their farms - unless they have a spare $5 million up their sleeve. But they can become shearing contractors, tractor drivers, shepherds or work their way up to six-digit salaries as farm managers.

So, like Braddock, this new generation of farmers may not grow up on a farm. They may not ever own a farm. Yet these city-folk now have a chance to turn their hand to greener pastures.

"I've been fortunate in my upbringing and I'm more than happy to put a bit back in for those who haven't been as fortunate," Braddock said.

"It gives me a huge amount of personal pleasure seeing these kids [coming] off the dole and seeing a career opportunity. That's extremely rewarding."

MOTUTAPU ISLAND – HISTORY

1400: Ngai Tai lived on Motutapu Island for more than 600 years, including around the time Rangitoto Island erupted in 1400. Footprints have been found in the layers of volcanic ash on the island.

1840: The northern part of the island was sold to Thomas Maxwell, who married the chief's daughter. From then, the land was passed through three European owners.

1869: The Reid brothers bought the island. In the early 1900s, James Reid married 20-year-old Eliza Jane Craig, more than 40 years his junior. When James died Eliza continued to run the farm.

1935: The Government purchased land from Eliza to build a defence station. By 1942 the military had taken over Motutapu Island as the main defence for Auckland. Eliza died the same year and was buried with her husband on the island.

1992: Department of Conservation leases the land to Auckland corporate farmer Rick Braddock. The Motutapu Restoration Trust is set up in 1994 to manage conservation projects on the island.

2012: In September the Tamaki Collective was signed, allowing the return of volcanic cones, islands and reserves to the 13 iwi and sub-tribes of the Auckland region. Title to Motutapu will be vested in the Collective then gifted back to the Crown, but the deed also gives Maori first refusal on Crown land.

- Sunday Star Times

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