Central North Island dairy company Miraka's focus on sustainable farming practices is showing results, after a record number of farms received honours in the recent Te Ara Miraka farming excellence awards.

Located 30km northwest of Taupo, Miraka uses renewable geothermal energy to generate over 300 million litres of premium milk products each year. The company is owned by a group of Maori trusts and sources milk from over 100 farms in the Central North Island region.

Its Te Ara Miraka (the Miraka Way) supports a culture of excellence through the Miraka supply chain from farm to the consumer.

The programme provides farmers with tools, resources and expert advice to drive profitability, improve land stewardship, produce world-class quality milk and build stronger communities. Farms are assessed annually and scores contribute to the final milk price.

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The Programme includes five pou: Nga Tangata — People, Te Taiao — Environment, Taurikura — Prosperity, Nga Kau — Cows, Miraka — Milk.

Representatives from Te Raparahi Trust. From left: Phillip Samuels, Tracey and Murray Simpson, Craig Walker and Dave Bajoyo.
Representatives from Te Raparahi Trust. From left: Phillip Samuels, Tracey and Murray Simpson, Craig Walker and Dave Bajoyo.

"Since establishing the awards over four years ago we've started to see significant change in on-farm practices" says Grant Jackson, Miraka's general manager of milk supply. "It's not just about meeting the regulations — that's a mandatory for us. It's all about how to go over and above, to achieve absolute excellence in areas like animal welfare, sustainable land management, looking after employees, and premium quality milk."

In all, 17 of the 104 participating farms achieved a score of 90 per cent or more, and Te Raparahi Lands Trust took out the top prize with a score of 100 per cent. Just 10 farms achieved a score over 90 per cent when the awards began four years ago. The excellence standards include a mix of mandatory and optional criteria. Optional criteria are allocated points, and results are financially incentivised over and above a market competitive base milk price.

"When Miraka first bought the standards out, I thought they looked pretty challenging," says top award winner Tracey Simpson of Te Raparahi Lands Trust. "I was worried it was too much pressure for farmers, and that we would never be able to meet all of them. But there has been a real change in the farming community recently. We know that strong environmental practices are good for the land, and they also make financial sense."

The team at Te Raparahi Lands Trust have been working on a holistic farming approach for over 10 years.

"For us it's about having shared goals and pushing ourselves to do more," says Phillip Samuels, Te Raparahi Lands Trust chairperson. "Last year we used our incentive payment to purchase a new Halo monitoring system for our farms, which has been a great investment. Miraka's approach is helping create a paradigm shift within New Zealand farming, to encourage farmers to start making positive changes."

Each year Miraka are seeing more farmers grow and accelerate change within the programme.

"At Miraka we value kaitiakitanga — we support decisions with a long-term view," says Murray Hemi, Miraka's kaitiaki and GM environmental leadership. "It's about building resilience into our business and living our values, while creating top quality dairy products. Our farmers are really starting to see the value in our approach. It's pretty exceptional to have so many of our farms hitting really high targets."

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