Successes and challenges facing Maori farming businesses today and in the future were well aired when around 85 farmers, trustees and agribusiness professionals recently gathered for a hui aimed at Maori in the agricultural sector.

The event at Rangihamama dairy farm near Kaikohe was part of Extension 350 (E350), a Northland initiative based on farmer to farmer learning aimed at lifting farm profitability, environmental sustainability and farmer wellbeing.

Project leader Luke Beehre says the project focuses squarely on the farmer.

"It's farmer-led, farmer focused and the farmers learn from, and teach, each other," he says. "It's attractive to all farmers, not just those who have been farming for years."

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Inspiring guest speakers at the hui provided ideas and tools for owners, workers and trustees/shareholders to use to help their businesses to succeed, best utilise their land and provide for their whanau.

"I believe firmly that Maori have a significant contribution to play in terms of the strategic direction and economic wealth of New Zealand. We are heavily invested in people and in our land."

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Host for the day and chairman of the Rangihamama Omapere Trust, Sonny Tau, opened the hui by challenging those present to think differently, take advice, consider their options including diversification away from traditional sheep, beef and dairy farming, and "to find your own pathway forward".

Keynote speaker Traci Houpapa, named one of the top 10 most influential women in New Zealand agribusiness, said: "I believe firmly that Maori have a significant contribution to play in terms of the strategic direction and economic wealth of New Zealand. We are heavily invested in people and in our land."

A variety of guest speakers offered information and advice during the day, including Bruce Cutforth, dairy farmer, industry leader and Rangihamama Omapere trustee for 11 years.

He talked about the keys to the success of the trust's two farms — clarity of purpose and ensuring the trust is robust and able to deliver.

"We started with a new vision: 'That the land will sustain its people'," Cutforth said. "This gave the trustees energy and authority and a strategic plan bought-into by shareholders empowered the board to dream."

Attention to governance created clear and strategic delegated authorities, defined the roles of governance and management and developed key accountabilities.

"This carried the vision forward, always making sure the whenua was not put at risk," Cutforth said.

Tiaki Hunia, Fonterra's general manager, Maori Strategy/Pauhere Maori, said the biggest challenges facing Maori were not access to capital, but building partnerships and developing confidence. "Maori have to tell stories of their success because this will generate more success."

BNZ partner Sam Johnson was a member of the judges' panel for the Ahuwhenua trophy BNZ Maori excellence in farming award won by the Rangihamama Omapere Trust farm for
the top sheep and beef farm in Aotearoa New Zealand last year.

He said the characteristics common to successful trusts and incorporations included clear direction, sound processes and good governance.

"Rangihamama Omapere Trust knows the importance of fiscal responsibility, on having budgets completed and reviewed," he said. "Trustees make good use of independent expert advice to instil confidence among shareholders. They use social media well and have a really good way of sharing a story and communicating regularly and clearly."

Ben Dalton, Northland's senior regional official for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Provincial Development Unit, spoke about aspects of land tenure that are inhibiting development and the importance of water storage. There was also vigorous discussion around water usage during the afternoon panel discussion session.

Feedback from the day was positive with many people saying they had gained new knowledge from the hui.

"It was inspirational and it will help us farm our land better," said one participant, while another said the hui had helped him "meet people who can make things happen".

E350 farmer chairman Ken Hames and project lead Luke Beehre discussed the project's vision and the opportunities it presents for Northland farmers.

"E350 is a successful programme offering expertise, mentoring and business advice that all Northland farmers can access to make their businesses more successful. It has the potential to transform our agricultural sector and we hope this hui will encourage more Maori to join Extension 350."

The Extension 350 project, which started two years' ago, has mentor farmers, associate farmers and farm advisers working alongside target farmers to improve their farm businesses, environmental sustainability and wellbeing.

There are 10 regional clusters, each of which has five target farmers who work one-on-one with a mentor farmer and a farm advisor. Five associate farmers are invited to learn alongside each target farm.

Seven of these clusters are up and running now with another three under development. E350 will ultimately involve 350 Northland farmers over five years.

E350 is now looking for mentors, targets and associates for the final three dairy clusters in Northland — Dargaville/West Coast, Bay of Islands and southern Northland and also for associate farmers across the balance of the region. Anyone with an interest should contact Luke Beehre luke.beehre@northlandnz.com.