A Māori land trust from Rotorua has taken out the country's top agricultural award.

The winner of the Ahuwhenua Trophy, Onuku Māori Lands Trust, was extremely proud to receive the award on Saturday.

In a statement the trust said it was "very thankful to the sponsors and organisers of the award who have been fantastic to work with through the process".

"The award is a credit not only to the current trustees, management and farm adviser, but also to those trustees, administration and farm staff who have faithfully and diligently been a kaitiaki of the lands till now.

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"The trust has a focus on its over 4000 owners, and distributes education grants, kaumatua grants, annual owners grant and is now looking to provide employment in its businesses to Onuku owners."

The trust was now looking to diversify its operations away from traditional dairy and had in the last two years established Onuku Honey.

"Our trust keeps a strong focus on environmental sustainability for the future and looking after the taonga that is Onuku for the next generations."

The Minister for Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, congratulated the Onuku Māori Lands Trust.

"They have won the country's top agricultural award with a policy of sharing the benefits from their dairy farms and always planning actively for the future," she said.

"I am delighted that the judges said that the trust had always 'demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility to their people' and had brought a wide range of skills to their business."

The judges also praised the trust's environmental record and its strong environmental focus.

"Onuku have been part of Project Rerewhakaaitu which aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphate levels in the lake," Mahuta said.

Onuku's winning dairy farm displayed good levels of productivity, according to the judges.

The trust's strategy was to use this winning farm as a pathway for rangatahi to work larger dairy farms on Onuku land.

"I am pleased that Onuku has a strong focus on supporting their people. Their focus on educational scholarships and training the next generation will make sure their whānau thrive in the future," Mahuta said.

"I thank them for the way they treasure both their land and plan for the coming generations of rangatahi."

The winner of this year's Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer Award was 26-year-old Harepaora Ngaheu from Te Teko.

Ngaheu, who affiliated to Ngāti Awa and Te Whānau ā Apanui, was a finalist in the 2016 competition.

The Young Māori Farmer Award was first held in 2012 and was designed to recognise talented, young Māori farmers.

It was also designed to encourage young Māori to make farming a career choice and to showcase to prospective employers the talent pool that existed within Māori.

Lead judge Peter Little said there was a good response of entrants for the awards.

"Ngaheu exemplifies all that is good about young Māori who are making successful careers in the primary sector.

"He will do a great job as a role model for other young Māori contemplating a career in the agribusiness sector.

"They need people like Ngaheu who has not had an easy life but through determination and hard work has shown that it is possible to come through adversity and achieve
at a high level.

"It is important that young Māori realise that every day there are new opportunities opening up for them."

Ngaheu didn't make as much out of school as he would have liked and drifted around for "many years", his profile said.

"But a key milestone in his life was his 21st birthday, which Ngaheu remembers was the day he put his first cups on a dairy cow as part of a training course he was on at the time.

"He found the dairy industry and it found him. His break came when a local farmer, Colin Wilson, took him in hand and offered him a permanent job – a move that has proved life changing for him and his young family."

The profile described dairy farming as a lifesaver for Ngaheu and his young family of his partner, Aiesha, and two daughters, Reve, 9 and Kesiah, 6.

Ngaheu now wanted to give back to the community by taking in young people like him who may need a new kick-start in life.