A Taranaki woman working in the Whanganui office of the Maori Trustee has helped fulfil a dream by persuading more than 1100 owners of small land holdings near Normanby to create a dairy farm.
Trustee Anne-Marie Broughton led the establishment of Te Rua o Te Moko from 2007 to 2012.
Te Rua o Te Moko is one of three finalists in the coveted Ahuwhenua Trophy, last awarded to a Taranaki farming operation in 2006.
Addressing about 250 people at last week's field day on the 170ha dairy farm, she said tupuna (ancestors) of the 1100-plus owners of the four blocks of land had had a dream.
"A dream of getting our land back, reconnecting with ourselves and rebuilding our cultural and economic bases."
Te Rua o Te Moko consists of four small holdings ranging in size from 27ha to 46ha and a 49ha Office of Treaty Settlements block previously occupied by the Taranaki Agricultural Research Station.
It was set up after Broughton noticed in 2007 that leases on three blocks of land at Normanby were about to expire at the same time as the dairy industry was in growth mode. 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, creating a package that was a perfect farm configuration.
The project is seen by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) as a model for Maori agribusiness.
MPI deputy director general of Maori primary sector partnerships Ben Dalton said combining the five blocks of land into a productive farm was a significant achievement and a model for Maori land the ministry was trying to roll out throughout the country.
Before Broughton's presentation, tears flowed as trustee and Ngaruahine chief Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiator Daisy Noble acknowledged Maunga Taranaki for feeding "our whenua and our waterways". She said Te Rua o Te Moko was a project that returned her people to the landscape after their lands were burnt in the scorched earth policies of the 1860s.
"We became a displaced people because we suffered land loss." Broughton said after Daisy Noble gave her support to the plan, Parininihi ki Waitotara looked at the land and recognised the project's potential. "So we had a concept but we needed proof that the concept could work, we needed commitment from the owners and trustees to go ahead do it, and we needed resources."
The Maori Trustee funded a feasibility study which showed that although the infrastructure, including the old 28-bail rotary cowshed, was in poor condition, the five blocks could create a dairy farm capable of milking 500 cows.
A number of hui were held before the owners committed themselves to the project.
"Some could see the dream immediately, some took a little longer. Some wanted to take an easier and safer path and lease the blocks out again. Some were scared it wouldn't work.
"A critical factor in getting the go-ahead was we had some wonderful pakeke (elders) who really believed in the venture and took a very active role in encouraging and persuading our owners to support the kaupapa."
After the owners gave their approval in October 2008, work began to prepare the farm for the 2009-10 season, but the project had to be reviewed when the global financial crisis struck.
"Our bottom line was that we needed a plan to ensure we wouldn't lose our land if the worst happened and the business failed."
The owners agreed to revert to leasing out the blocks if necessary. The last hurdle was obtaining the lease for the OTS block.
She said Te Rua o Te Moko was frugal in getting the farm operational.
"If we couldn't use it up, wear it out, make do or do without, then we'd spend the money." New races, fences, water systems, an irrigator and a vat were provided, the silage pit was enlarged and calf sheds were extended, but the buildings were dilapidated.
"So while you'll see beautiful land, lovely healthy animals and investment in land improvements, you'll see functional but rundown buildings which we're forced to make do with until settlement occurs."
Te Rua o Te Moko was now turning its attention to embedding its own people and protocols in the business, regaining ownership of the OTS block after which it would build a new cowshed, buying a herd and changing from a sharemilking regime to a managed farm.
The owners were proud of their dairy farming business and were thrilled to be Ahuwhenua finalists, she said.
Te Rua o Te Moko chairman Dion Maaka said his focus was getting people associated with the four trusts back on to the land.
"We want to manage a dairy farming business to create opportunities through governance and management, to have our own people on the farm and re-unite the whanau who have been distant for generations.
"At the heart of our decision- making is an intense focus on profitability, increasing our ability to provide free cashflow to our owners."
That would be achieved by good production, cost control and decision making.
After starting with nothing, Te Rua o Te Moko expected to have $2m equity in the business by 2015-16, over and above the value of the land and hoped to be debt- free by the end of the 2019-20 dairy season.
"We have created an agribusiness model to utilise our lands for the best economic returns for our people and provide opportunities for investment and social outcomes."
Maori Trustee business performance manager Blair Waipara said the owners had a clear vision for using the farm to create a legacy of wealth and prosperity. Over the next five years, they hoped to grow milk production to 235,000kg MS on a grass-based system.
His statement that Maori in the dairy industry could show leadership in the way they cared for the environment was echoed by Fonterra area manager and first round Ahuwhenua Trophy judge Paul Radich.
Radich said Te Rua o Te Moko's approach to sustainability reflected Maori values. "That's what you do. You look after the whenua."
Fellow judge Peter Ettema, of the Ministry for Primary Industries, said Te Rua o Te Moko's key successes were:
Its creation of a productive and profitable farm business from a number of small blocks of land.
A strong governance team with a clear focus of a strong equity base and operating profit margins, backed by Te Rua o Te Moko owners and beneficiaries.
Its focus on training youngsters, bringing them back to the whenua and providing pastoral care and practical skills.
The team focus of 50/50 sharemilkers Michael and Ruth Prankerd, and their attention to animal welfare, feed production and human resources.
- Taranaki Daily News