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Ngai Tahu trials dairy conversions

Last updated 05:00 25/03/2013
EYE ON AGRICULTURE: Mike Sang sees dairy farming as a promising use for Ngai Tahu’s rural land portfolio.

EYE ON AGRICULTURE: Mike Sang sees dairy farming as a promising use for Ngai Tahu’s rural land portfolio.

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New Ngai Tahu Holdings Corp chief executive Mike Sang is watching with interest the iwi's "pilot" venture into dairy farms, saying there will be further conversions into dairy from old forestry land if the tests are successful.

NTHC is the commercial arm of the South Island tribe Ngai Tahu and is also "cautiously optimistic" about rebuild opportunities in quake-torn Christchurch, Sang says.

Before switching over to the South Island tribe, Sang already had considerable experience in the agricultural world. He was chief financial officer with PGG Wrightson for more than five years in the period to August 2009.

Ngai Tahu iwi had three pilot dairy farms totalling 1216 hectares being developed on a former forest block at Eyrewell Forest north of the Waimakariri River plus a lot more potential land used or previously used for forestry.

"We're milking the cows so they're fully in operation. So now we're just doing an assessment of the pilot, we're working that through over the next few months."

If the pilots were judged a success in economic and farming terms, Ngai Tahu would plough ahead with further conversion of the former forestry land, including native plantings for shelter belts.

Sang said the iwi had a further 16,000 extra hectares it could convert to dairy.

This included Eyrewell with 6764 hectares (including 60 per cent in forest) north of the Waimakariri River, with water piped in for irrigation.

The tribe's other land included a Balmoral forest site with a further 9380ha (including 70 per cent in forest) near the Hurunui River. The tribe had invested in an irrigation project around the Hurunui which was now going to the consenting phase, and if successful would be used for its own land, Sang said.

The tribe was also involved in a project to source water from the river via an irrigation scheme. Irrigation was an important resource for Canterbury, he said noting the drought around New Zealand.

Ngai Tahu could one day move back into the heart of the city given that it wanted to house its 120 or so head office staff together. At the moment most of the iwi staff are working from buildings around and including the old Wigram control tower building, which is close to Ngai Tahu Property's Wigram Skies project. The subdivision is well under way and will eventually contain about 2000 houses, a town centre and a commercial property site.

Sang said due to tight conditions at the Wigram office about 30 of the property group had already moved to Solid Energy's head office building in Show Place, Addington. Ngai Tahu Tourism was headquartered at the airport.

A potential Ngai Tahu city site was the King Edward Barracks block on the corner of Cashel and Montreal streets. That block held the police tower, with discussions about the tenanting and status of that building ongoing. It could potentially be demolished to make way for building redevelopments down the track, Sang said.

Ngai Tahu also owned the nearby courts buildings, he said.

The iwi, which is already on a short list of developers for the convention centre precinct, was also potentially interested in the justice and emergency services precinct, to be built between Lichfield, Tuam, Durham and Colombo streets, Sang said.

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"Those sites [police and courts] will tick over for the next few years and we will make decisions over the next few years . . . We need to see what's happening with the justice precinct."

The Government would likely deliberate over the justice precinct site for several months, he added.

The company had drawn debt of about $117m at June 30, but total debt facilities of $320m giving the company room to move in terms of new infrastructure investments, Sang said.


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