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Māori group crowned cream of the crop

Masterton-based Māori business Wairarapa Moana has won the top spot at New Zealand’s most prestigious Māori farming awards.

Kingi Smiler, chair of Wairarapa Moana ki Pouakani Incorporation, said he is both “extremely proud” and relieved after winning the Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top Māori dairy farm against “tough competition”.

“It is a great benchmark to achieve and really acknowledges the great work the team has done,” he said.

Award participants were judged on various criteria, including financial performance, governance and strategy, contribution to whānau and community, environmental practices and impacts, animal and feeding performance, and innovation.

“The team have demonstrated over the past five years that they’re very consistent in delivering a good performance,” Smiler said.

“There’s always room for improvement, and we will continue to make those.”

Farm 4 – which is one of Wairarapa Moana’s 12 farms and is based near Mangakino in south Waikato – is 300 hectares and carries 980 cows that produce 416,000kg of milk solids.

For the past six years, Smiler said, the farm has worked on developing its environmental practices, including reducing its carbon footprint, and improving water quality.

It sits within the top five per cent of industry benchmarks and runs a high-care, high-efficiency model where its environmental footprint has been reduced by 30 per cent.

While government regulations for dairy farms limit the maximum amount of nitrogen to 190 units, Smiler said Wairarapa Moana is “very efficient” and uses an average of just 95 units.

Minister for Māori Development Tama Potaka said that Wairarapa Moana ki Pouakani is a strong example of Māori dairy farming excellence.

“I’ve seen first-hand the hard work, brilliance, and innovation demonstrated by Māori farmers,” he said.

Potaka noted that the award encourages “building economic benefits while ensuring kaitiakitanga – nurturing their whenua for future generations and inspiring others”.

All the finalists displayed a high standard, said Potaka, who looked forward to seeing more of their future success.

“Māori businesses in the primary sector are going from strength to strength.”

Potaka said the dairy sector is New Zealand’s biggest export earner, and that 10 per cent of dairy farms are owned by Māori.

“Statistics NZ data from September 2022 to September 2023, showed the total value of sales in this part of the sector increased by $99 million, up by a third.

“The government has set an ambitious target to double the overall value of New Zealand’s exports in 10 years.”

The Ahuwhenua Trophy – which was inaugurated 91 years ago by Sir Āpirana Ngata and Governor General Lord Bledisloe – is held annually on a three-year rotational basis between the sheep and beef, horticulture, and dairy sectors.

The runners-up were Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board, while Ben Purua [Tainui] won the 2024 Young Māori Farmer Award.

The ceremony last Friday at Hamilton’s Claudelands Event Centre was attended by 850 people, including Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Kiingi Tuheitia, Royal Consort Makau Ariki Atawhai, Sir Tumu and Lady Susan Te Heuheu, along with other ministers and representatives from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the European Union.

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