Maori agribusiness 'not treaty money'

Last updated 16:39 14/06/2012
 PM John Key arrived to a cold and wet Mystery Creek at 10am. PM John Key arrived to a cold and wet Mystery Creek at 10am.
PM John Key arrived to a cold and wet Mystery Creek at 10am.
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A Maori business leader is calling for myths about Maori agribusiness to be smashed.

Federation of Maori Authorities chair Traci Houpapa told the president's forum at National Fieldays that many people incorrectly assumed Maori agribusiness was being driven entirely by treaty settlement money.

There were Maori agribusinesses that had been in business for more than 100 years, a fact that needed to be "promoted and normalised in the New Zealand farming psyche", she said.

Another myth that needed to be debunked would help New Zealand address the challenges of the small size of its economy, agriculture sector and Maori farming sector within the large global economy,  Houpapa said.

"If we're going to succeed, we must change our way of thinking to smash the myth of 'Maori economic development' because that stops us thinking about the opportunities for development as a nation.

"There are opportunities for us wider than the farm gate, and there's a need for us to pool our assets and ideas and to use science and innovation, to boost production and productivity."

A key goal for Maori authorities and Maori agribusiness was to drive strategic partnerships, alliances and joint ventures, Houpapa said.

Maori agribusiness had expanded its horizons beyond traditional avenues of farming, forestry and fish, and was increasingly seeking "across-industry" opportunities, including energy, property, horticulture and offshore investment opportunities.

Houpapa is the federation's first woman chair. She said Maori and iwi authorities were beginning to recognise the role and responsibilities of Maori women in shaping strategic vision across land ownership and assets. "Recognising Maori women's role is new for us,"  she said.

The federation was formed 25 years ago to bring Maori authorities and iwi authorities together, and to seek economies of scale and other opportunities to drive performance and productivity of Maori-owned assets. The federation has a $10 billion asset base, owns more than a quarter of a million hectares of farmland and has sizeable forestry operations.

Houpapa was one of four women agribusiness leaders giving their perspectives on the changing face of farming, the National Fieldays theme this year, at the Fieldays Society president's forum

Agribusiness consultant, and former Nuffield and Kelloggs leadership scholar, Mandi McLeod said farming used to be considered a "hospital pass" but "it's now the money pass."

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A key issue facing farmers was ensuring that money formed a lasting legacy, . Farmers needed to plan for their retirement, with less than 10 per cent of farm business owners independent of their assets when they retired. They also needed to plan for succession, McLeod said.

"At least 66 per cent of the dairy industry is characterised as family farms. We ignore family at our peril, when it comes to continuance. We need to recognise the needs, wants, fears and expectations of all family members. We also need facilitated discussions between the generations to get clarity in the future. Those conversations are not happening, despite the thought they are."

Other trends in the changing face of  farming included increasing diversity, ranging from biological to high-intensity farming, McLeod said.

"We've seen farmer credibility with the public challenged including 'dirty dairying', milk powder issues and butter issues. There's a recognition now that water is not used but borrowed and as such must be returned in a similar condition.  Water must be one of our most valuable assets."

Rural Women New Zealand president Liz Evans told the forum women had always made a huge contribution to agriculture but that had not always been fully acknowledged, and in some ways still was not fully acknowledged today.

"Farming women are embracing opportunities with a lot of confidence. If we need help, we ask for it ... to progress our business and community lives.

"We believe at Rural Women New Zealand to keep moving forward we have to form alliances and partnerships with other organisations, local and national government, because these days farming has to sell itself to the wider community as much as the food and fibre we produce."

In other changes, the internet and social networking were "gold " for today's farmers because they made isolation less of a threat, Evans said. And increasingly the faces of farming were including people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, who needed to be supported and accepted in  the sector.

Waikato University agribusiness chair Dr Jacqueline Rowarth said one of the biggest concerns facing agribusiness education was the need to "bring the boys back" into agribusiness classrooms. Their numbers had dwindled, as they were seeing a better living elsewhere than in agribusiness. A way to address this was to increase returns for agriculture, including by reducing regulatory costs.

"We have huge societally-imposed legislation that is helping us to say ... our food is safe and high quality but it's also squeezing the ability of farmers to make a profit.

"We need that message to get out to society when the complaints about milk prices start again ... that people could afford to pay more for safe, high quality food so the income stream goes up."

This would enable investment to remain in the agribusiness sector to keep farming attractive for young people.

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Avoid traffic hotspots

All roads leading to Fieldays at Mystery Creek will be packed at peak times over the next few days but there are ways to dodge the melee.

NZTA State Highway manager Kaye Clark said there's always a significant increase in traffic volumes on State Highway 1, SH3 and SH21.

Waikato road policing manager Inspector Leo Tooman recommends people use SH3 through Glenview rather than overloading SH1.

"We've noticed that everybody seems to want to use SH1," Mr Tooman said, "and SH3 is being under-used yet it's often the quickest option."

Mr Tooman said other hot spots where people might experience delays include intermittent queuing on Tauwhare Rd as cars come off SH1B.

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- Waikato Times


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