Dairy focus and vision pay off

By Cherie Taylor

A late entry into the most prestigious Maori farming competition has paid off for one of Rotorua's Maori trusts.

Kapenga M Trust's Tumunui 330ha dairy farm has been announced as one of three finalists in the Maori Excellence in Farming Awards: the Ahu Whenua Trophy.

It is one of three local farms in the finals of the annual competition.

Trust chairman Roku Mihinui says the farm is under good management with sharemilker Edwin Schweizer at the helm and the trust has a good strategy plan and consistent vision for the property, as well as for its nearby sheep, beef and deer farms.

"It's been a progressive journey with the present trustees. We have a long-term strategy and we work towards that," he says.

The trust had totally reviewed the direction of the farms, which included consolidating the business to bring better returns for the 900 owners, with a strategic plan looking forward, Mihinui says.

"We've done a total review of our management and operations plan with the farm," he says.

"It's about our focus and working in unison on that with the farm manager. Five years ago, we changed the sharemilker with the current sharemilker and he has been very receptive ... we believe with that collective input with the trust we can achieve significant results, and we have."

Going into partnership with Schweizer in a 60/40 contract, they have added a neighbouring 240ha farm to their current 330ha dairy holdings.

Mihinui says the trust has the option to buy him out in the future.

The current farm runs a mixed jersey/friesian herd of 1020 cows. Since 2009, total milk production has increased steadily from 241,441kg in 2008 to 371,169kg, although the herd has increased by only nine cows. Production per cow has gone from 246kg of milk solids to 372kg.

The trust is also harvesting 100ha of forestry planted 28 years ago.

Though the dairy farm has been in operation since 1997, trust benefactors have a long association with the land since the Tarawera eruption in 1886. "It's about maximising our resources in lands we whakapapa to. Tuhourangi have strong connections with the land here," he says. The trust nearly didn't enter the prestigious contest - putting in its application only after hearing no Rotorua farms had entered.

Mihinui says the trust's sheep and beef unit won the prestigious competition in 2003 and they were stoked with making it into the finals with the dairy farm. "We never thought about it but once we did enter we thought it would be good experience to see what it was like. This was something totally new for us. We were pleasantly surprised about making the finals ... we are quite excited," he says.

In the past, the trust has distributed more than $1.5 million in education funding, kaumatua and other grants, along with regular dividends to it's beneficiaries. It is also a foundation investor in the Te Arawa Future Farming training programme.

Other finalists in the competition are Taupo's Tauhara Moana Trust and Te Puke's Wharepi Whanau Trust.

Competition chairman Kingi Smiler says judges were impressed with each of the farms.

The contest was established in 1932 by Sir Apirana Ngata and alternates between sheep and beef and dairy each year. It went into recession for a few years, returning in 2004.

"What we have seen this year continues to excite us. Congratulations to all these finalist who illustrate outstanding business knowledge and fundamentals whilst keeping their land and their people at the centre of everything they do," he says.

The finals will be held on Friday, June 8 with field days being held at Kapenga M Trust on April 27, Tauhara Moana on May 3 and Wharepi on May 10.

- Hamilton News

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