Incorporation set to diversify

By Laurel Stowell

Increased production and good prices made for an outstanding result for the Atihau Whanganui Incorporation this year, chief executive Chris Scanlon says.

The group increased its net farm income by more than $2 million.

The incorporation has 7000 Maori shareholders and hundreds attended its annual meeting at the Whanganui Racecourse on Friday. They own 41,700ha in the Waimarino, which is divided into eight properties with 36 permanent on-farm staff.

Each share got a dividend of 75 cents this year, up on the previous two years. The shareholders liked that.

"They were obviously appreciative but they always want more," Mr Scanlon said.

Net farm income for the incorporation's eight properties was $8.4 million this year, up from $6.2 million last year. Eight million kilograms of meat, fibre and milk came off the land.

Investment in fencing, fertiliser, water and systems was paying off, and the record high prices for meat, wool and milk also helped.

Prices were now dropping but the incorporation was still "in very good shape", Mr Scanlon said.

He and its seven directors were focused on further improvement, but the easy and obvious things had already been done. "We've now got to work harder. We are geared for it," he said.

They would like to diversify away from having 94 per cent of their production in meat and fibre, and all of it coming from the same climatic zone. Members had made two visits to China in the past year and came away with new possibilities.

One involves getting more businesslike about the way honey is harvested from incorporation land.

In the past, beekeepers have been allowed to have hives there on an ad hoc basis.

Mr Scanlon has now formed a joint venture with Masterton-based Maori apiarists Watson & Son. They will be the only business allowed to have hives on incorporation land.

The Watsons produce premium manuka honey and export it to 12 countries, including China. Incorporation land has a lot of manuka.

Mr Scanlon said the new arrangement would be more structured and he would run it. The idea would be to produce honey "further up the supply and value chain" and for the incorporation to get a better share of the income.

Another possibility for diversification would be more dairying, also for export to China, and in a joint venture with the Taupo-area Tuaropaki Trust.

The incorporation currently has just 700 dairy cows on one farm near Ohakune.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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