Maori farming model to be proud of

GOOD GOVERNANCE: Te Rua o Te Moko joint venture chairman Dion Maaka.
GOOD GOVERNANCE: Te Rua o Te Moko joint venture chairman Dion Maaka.

The foresight of more than 1100 owners who agreed to create a dairy farm from five blocks of Maori land in South Taranaki five years ago could be further rewarded tomorrow.

Te Rua o Te Moko, owned by four trusts, is one of three dairy farms which are finalists in the prestigious Te Ahuwhenua Trophy for Excellence in Maori Farming. The winner will be announced at a gala awards night in Tauranga tomorrow.

Te Rua o Te Moko joint venture chairman Dion Maaka thinks the farm near Normanby is the first genuine attempt at collaborative ownership of Maori land in Taranaki.

"The owners had to have a lot of faith because there was potential loss of control of their land. But with sensible negotiation and effective communication, they were able to see a proper governance and management structure could achieve something special."

He believes it's a model that other owners of Maori land could adopt, a stance backed by Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director general of Maori primary sector partnerships Ben Dalton, who said combining the blocks into a productive farm was a significant achievement.

It was a model for Maori land the ministry was trying to roll out throughout the country, he said.

Maaka said as the awards evening approached, he was becoming more nervous. But at the same time he had confidence in the ability of the team assembled by Te Rua Te Moko to take part in the contest.

He said being named a finalist for the trophy was a validation of the owners' decision to establish the farm. "It took courage and conviction to seek more value from their land. They can be proud of their farm."

The establishment of Te Rua o Te Moko was led by a Taranaki woman working in the Whanganui office of the Maori Trustee.

Consisting of a 49ha treaty settlement block and four holdings ranging in size from 27ha to 46ha, it was created after Anne-Marie Broughton noticed in 2007 that leases on three blocks of land at Normanby were about to expire. Adjacent to the land was a Maori freehold block and in the centre was the treaty settlement property with a cowshed and other farm infrastructure. So she persuaded more than 1100 owners of the different blocks to create a 170ha dairy farm. In conjunction with Land Based Training, Te Rua o Te Moko has also established a farm training school on the property for descendants of owners and other young Maori aspiring to a farming career.

Te Rua o Te Moko has been run for the last two years by 50/50 sharemilkers Michael and Ruth Prankerd whose 490-cow herd produced a farm record of 190,000kg milksolids in the 2013-14 season.

The couple have high hopes for success in the contest. "We're excited," Michael Prankerd said. "We've given it our best shot."

As Taranaki Federated Farmers sharemilkers' chairman, he said the 2013-14 dairy season had already demonstrated the success of the sharemilking model in Taranaki.

Sharemilkers' vice-chairman, Charlie McCaig and wife Jody, won the New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title last month. The couple who were variable order sharemilkers on the Taranaki Community Rugby Trust farm at Inaha, near Manaia, are now in their first season as 50/50 sharemilkers, working for for Ian and Judith Armstrong at Te Kiri.

Tony and Loie Penwarden were 50/50 sharemilkers for the Armstrongs before their move 10 years ago to Faull Farms Ltd's Trewithen farm at Tikorangi, which was named the inaugural winner of the Taranaki Ballance Farm Environment Award in April. The national winner will be named in Christchurch later this month.

Prankerd said he'd love Taranaki sharemilkers to achieve the hat-trick of the three awards.

"To get to this level of success in a small region is pretty pleasing," he said.

The Prankerds are in the final year of their three-year contract at Te Rua o Te Moko, which expects to be milking its own herd on the property next season.

With a long-term goal of farm ownership, the couple are enjoying the cashflow created by sharemilking as they build their equity.

Prankerd said being finalists for Te Ahuwhenua Trophy had created a strong team environment within the operation and had enhanced the relationship between the sharemilkers and Te Rua o Te Moko's board of directors. "It's made both parties understand what each other's goals and aspirations are.

"A lot of information had to be shared during the judging process, so everyone had to be up to speed. The work done by the board and the sharemilkers certainly moved the farm forward," he said.

Te Ahuwhenua Trophy was inaugurated in 1933 by visionary Maori leader Sir Apirana Ngata and Governor General, Lord Bledisloe, to encourage skill and proficiency in Maori farming.

The competition ceased in 1990 and was revived in 2003 as Maori agribusiness began to develop. Contests for sheep and beef farming and for dairy farming have been held in alternate years since 2005 and Taranaki Maori incorporation Parininihi ki Waitotara won the first bi-annual competition for dairy farming and the prestigious trophy in 2006.

Previous Taranaki winners have been Ted Tamati, of Bell Block, who was successful in both 1965 and 1971, and Waitara's Charlie Bailey, who won the trophy in 1970 and in 1976.

Taranaki Daily News