Thursday, 25 May 2017 11:55

Top Maori farmers centre stage

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Puketawa Station’s Ron King speaking at the recent field day. Puketawa Station’s Ron King speaking at the recent field day.

On Friday the winner of the Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top Maori sheep and beef farm will be named at a gala awards dinner in Whangarei.

Each of the three finalists has showcased their properties at field days. Peter Burke reports on the last two, one in Wairarapa, the other in the central North Island.

The field day at Puketawa Station, owned by Ron and Justine (Buzz) King, near Eketahuna, in northern Wairarapa, drew about 150 people.

The couple bought the 1108ha (917 eff.) sheep and beef farm in 2013 and have since progressively upgraded the infrastructure and improved the pastures and stock genetics.

The farm runs 4369 sheep, which includes 2585 mixed age ewes and 845 two-tooths; cattle numbers stand at 1740.

The Kings were able to buy the farm as a result of Ron and his three siblings -- all accomplished shearers -- pooling their financial resources in 2001 and buying Mangaroa Station, near Wairoa. As a result of upgrading this farm, working hard and saving money, all now own their own farms.

Ron’s sister Nukuhia and her husband Bart Hadfield, who now own Mangaroa Station, won the Ahuwhenua Trophy for the top sheep and beef farm in 2015.

Buzz King admits she was nervous at the start of the day, having to speak in front of a large group, but in the end it wasn’t as bad as she expected. She says the key to their success is a strong work ethic, something she tries to instil in young people who come to work on the farm.

“Even if we don’t win we’ve learnt a lot and the amount of feedback we have had has been tremendous. You can’t image how humbling it is to be a part of the Ahuwhenua trophy contest,” she told Rural News.

Ron says the strong work ethic and a disciplined approach has got them and their whanau where they are today.

“We had the same goal: all of us owning our own farms; that’s a big part of our story. And we don’t do things for the ‘now’, we do things looking forward to the future because we want a sustainable business future generations of our whanau.”

The judges selected Ron and Buzz as finalists, praising their clear vision, commitment to repay debt, and business approach primarily focused on increasing stock units by improving productivity. They noted the strong supportive whānau and the couple’s commitment to the local community.

The final field day saw another 150 people turn up to Pukepoto Farm Trust, near the tiny settlement of Ongarue, about 20 minutes north of Taumarunui. Most people understand Pukepoto to mean ‘little hill’, but in this case it means blue clay.

The farm is a typical hill country farm with high steep hills and gullies that drop down to feed the Ongarue and Ohura Rivers and ultimately the Whanganui River.

The property consists of 1400ha of which just over 1000ha are farmed. About 100ha are covenanted under the Ngā Whenua Rāhui scheme. Currently the property winters 6000 Romney ewes and 300 mainly Angus cattle.

One trustee of Pukepoto, Weo Maag, says they were pleased with the turnout to the field day and he was chuffed at their positive feedback.

“There were excellent comments from people who know this farm and who know about farming; to get this sort of response is encouraging. It’s been a busy time for us and our staff and we’re satisfied we gave it our best shot.”

The judges who selected Pukepoto Farm Trust as a finalist say they were impressed with its collaborative approach to governance and its use of a mix of skills to full advantage. They also praised its financial management, setting of clear and simple key performance indicators and commitment to improving animal performance.

Ahuwhenua Trophy committee chairman Kingi Smiler says all three field days were professionally run and they applaud this effort. This you would expect from three top-performing Māori sheep and beef farmers, he says. Now the judges have much to ponder as the awards dinner draws near (May 26).

Nearly 800 people are expected to attend the function – leading figures in national and local politics, Maori, agribusiness and whanau of the finalists. The Young Maori Farmer of the year will also be named.

 

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