Onuku Māori Lands Trust from Rotorua is the winner of the 2018 Ahuwhenua Trophy BNZ Māori Excellence in Farming Award for dairy.

Moyra Bramley - Onuku Māori Lands Trust chair

The announcement was made by the Governor General, Her Excellency, The Rt Hon. Dame Patsy Reddy, at a special awards function held in Christchurch on Friday. The function was attended by more 650 people including the Minister for Māori Development, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, the Minister of Agriculture Hon Damien O’Connor and other dignitaries representing te ao Māori, central and local government and agribusiness.

The Ahuwhenua Trophy was inaugurated 85 years ago by the great Māori Leader, Sir Apirana Ngata and the Governor General at the time, Lord Bledisloe with the objective of encouraging Māori farmers to improve their land and their overall farming position with an emphasis on sustainability.

The winning farm is their Boundary Road property, one of a number of farms owned and operated by the Trust. Boundary Road consists of a 72ha block near Lake Rotomahana, about 30km south of Rotorua. The Trust milks 220 cows which produce about 90,000 kgMS on farm.

The other finalist in the 2018 competition was the Proprioters of Mawhera Incorporation whose dairy farm is near Hokitika on the West Coast of the South Island. Kingi Smiler, the Chairman of the Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee says both finalists set very high standards in terms of their farming and the governance of their operations. But he says there has to be a winner and the judges believed that on this occasion Onuku were the top performer.

“I congratulate Onuku and commend them for their great farming operation and their commitment to the values of Sir Apirana Ngata and Lord Bledisloe. Every year we attract an amazing cohort of farmers which showcase the success of Māori achievement in the agri business sector – long may this continue,” he says.

Kingi says it is great to showcase Māori excellence before such a large and influential audience at the awards function.

Farm history

In 1882 the land now known as the Onuku Māori Lands Trust was partitioned and handed back to Ngāti Rangitihi. The Mount Tarawera eruption occurred on the 10th June 1886, wiping out the Rangitihi Pā located at Moura on the shores of Tarawera, and the world famous Pink and White Terraces on the shores of Rotomahana. The surrounding land, including that of Onuku, was covered with Rotomahana mud and portions of Tarawera ash and gravel. These soils today make up the base of the Onuku Farms. The estate stretches from Mount Tarawera in the north to Timberlands boundary in the south across State Highway 38.

From 1963 the land was developed and managed by the Department of Lands and Survey and handed back to Ngāti Rangitihi in 1982 when the Onuku Māori Lands Trust was formed. It had been run as one big drystock farming operation, but one of the goals of the Trust was to diversify and dairy was a good choice. Today the Trust has developed to consist of four dairy farms, a drystock farm, forestry, natural reserves and a manuka plantation. Onuku has also developed outside the farm gates, starting an export honey business: Onuku Honey.

One of the strategic goals of Onuku has always been to acquire land on its boundaries and when the Rotorua District Council Northern Boundary Road dairy farm was put up for sale in 2004, Onuku felt they had to be a serious bidder. Hence this is the farm you see today. When purchased the farm was in a rundown state and required some work to bring back up to standard. As an investment, this farm has been a good performer averaging 1,214 kgMS/ha. The farm is 90% pasture based and uses Farmax and Overseer to assist with effective management decisions.

The farm has a strong environmental focus, with Onuku being part of Project Rerewhakaaitu, a voluntary local farming initiative to help protect local waterways and lakes. Management focus on reduction in N and P loss and highest possible animal welfare standards.

The more recent strategy for Onuku is the move from sharemilking to herd ownership and the Trust now owns herds on Dairy Two and Boundary Road Farms. Boundary Road Farm has allowed the Trust to realise another of its goals by ‘growing our own’ in the industry and on farm. Manager, Alan Rondon is of Ngāti Rangitihi descent, and his Grand Uncle was one of the original Trustees of Onuku. Alan originally worked for our Dairy One Sharemilker as his 2IC.

The strategy is for training Onuku owners in farm management on Boundary Road and creating a pathway through to the larger dairy farms on Onuku.

The Onuku board is actively involved with the various areas of its business, particularly on farm and they visit regularly. The Trustees are Moyra Te Ariki Bramley (Chair), Barnett Vercoe, Les Stowell, Maramena Vercoe, Tina Ngatai and Ken Raureti.