Eugene and Pania King from Kiriroa Station at Matawai, north-west of Gisborne, are this year’s winners of the Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top Māori sheep and beef farm.
This is not to criticise the conference, which was the best for many years, with good speakers and panels ably facilitated by president Katie Milne and Steve Maharey.
The awards presented were good, especially to Dr Merlyn Hay for her dedication to discovering Mycoplasma bovis near Oamaru in 2017.
Although a few Māori addressed the conference, they were distinctly absent from the ranks of Feds delegates. This is not new, but while Māori agribusiness has grown, for some reason Māori farmers have chosen not to engage in the activites of the Federation.
O’Connor observed in his keynote address that Māori are now large players in the primary sector, producing 10% of dairy and kiwifruit products and 15% of meat and wool. They are major landholders and many of their farms — as illustrated by this and others years’ finalists in the Ahuwhenua competition — are top class by national and international standards.
And what Māori have to offer the primary sector is huge — their values of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and manaakitanga (sharing).
Jacinda Ardern told the conference that the Chinese Premier had told her how much he appreciated Māori values and how these set NZ apart from other nations. Their story has authenticity that resonates with the modern consumer.
So why are Māori not engaging with or being engaged by Federated Farmers? Do Māori not see the federation as relevant to their needs or interests? Is there a way Māori could raise their profile within the Feds or is it better for them to remain outside the group?
It is important that Federated Farmers ensures the Māori voice is heard by its members, as happened to some degree at the conference. At our peril do Kiwis underestimate Māori values and their contribution to NZ Inc.
Māori need to know that their values are not just respected but are critical to the story about the provenance and authenticity of our food and fibre products.