He told Rural News there’s been a vast improvement in governance and leadership in the trusts managing Maori farming enterprises. His comments came as the three finalists in this year’s competition held field days to show the judges and others what they have achieved.
The Ahuwhenua Trophy competition is held annually, but alternates between sheep and beef and dairying. This year’s competition is for dairy farmers, the winners to be announced early June at a function in Auckland.
Smiler says previous winners of the trophy have been good role models for new entrants to the competition and there is a better understanding of the requirements. Field days and other networking opportunities are held and there’s been more formal training.
“The Institute of Directors courses, along with a lot of smaller courses on governance, have helped build governance and leadership skills. We are seeing the Maori trusts becoming much more professional now and using their advisors well. They are much more demanding of them in terms of performance.
“The trusts are also making sure they employ good staff such as share milkers. Sometimes it’s their own people but they are quite happy to go out there and find the best people to help them on their farms.”
Smiler says Maori are making a significant contribution to New Zealand agriculture. They make up about 10% of dairy production and 15-20% of the sheep and beef sector. Because Maori farms are mostly large they can provide a significant benefit to the economy.
Smiler points out that Maori are now starting to extend their role in the value chain with its agricultural production.
For example, the new Maori-owned Miraka dairy plant near Taupo, now in its first year of operation, has proved highly successful.
“We are looking to control our own destiny in a way we would like. If we find we can do that economically and beneficially, we think the long term will be a more sustainable proposition for our people, rather than some of the previous value chains like Fonterra and the other more fragmented ones in the sheep and beef industry.”
• More on the Ahuwhenua Trophy, see page 36-37.