Iwi Island Agribusiness Enterprises

June 2012

The challenges of farming on an island for a Maori Trust

The story looks at two Maori agricultural businesses on the Bay of Plenty islands of Matakana and Rangiwaea – dairying and orcharding.

Matakana Island is a long, flat island, 20 kilometres in length and about 3 kilometres wide. The island has been occupied by a number Māori tribes that are mostly associated with Ngai Te Rangi. The island has two distinct parts: 2,023 ha of farm and orchard land on the inner harbour, (where most of the population lives) and 4,047 ha of forest-covered coastal land exposed to the Pacific Ocean.

Mark Ngatai farms on Matakana and his cousin Brendon is on Rangiwaea Island separated by a narrow estuary from Matakana.

There are 7 dairy farms on the island, 4 orchards and one forestry plantation. Mark Ngatai runs his dairy farm in conjunction with son Enoka. He milks up to 450 cows over summer and runs 200 cows in winter.

Enoka is the fourth generation of the family on the land.

The land is in trust ownership but is leased to various agriculture enterprises including six other dairy farmers, maize growers and kiwifruit and avocado orchards run by the Maori trusts.

Normal weather there is described as mild winters and harsh, dry summers – perfect for the fishing and beachlife but not so good for milking through the summer months.

The mild winters on the island suit milking through winter and farmers have also made sure they have enough supplements to see them through, however farming through the summer can be tough.

Some farmers on the island are proponents of OAD (once a day), but the Ngatai’s haven’t gone down that track yet. Those that are milking once a day say one of the advantages is that it takes the stress off the workforce. Workers are difficult to get on the island and to milk OAD during the busy calving period takes the pressure off the labour situation.

Island life has its own set of challenges. All contractors, equipment, fertiliser, and metal for farm laneways have to come to the island by barge – with its extra costs. Just getting the vet out to a sick animal is tricky and all farmers on Matakana have learned to be self-sufficient. This includes having the right gear for cultivation etc.

Another challenge is milk tankers which are barged to the island. All island dairy units are equipped with double vats for storage, but as the volume has increased pickups have shifted to daily.

Brendon Taingahue is in his early 40’s and has been working on the island since he left school. He’s orchard manager and also a trustee of the Tauwhao Te Ngare Trust which owns the land.

Tauwhao Te Ngare Trust is an Ahuwhenua Trust established from amalgamated land blocks on Rangiwaea Island, Bay of Plenty. Setup in 1982, the Trust owns and manages business interests in horticulture, agriculture and forestry.

The trust is owned by over 1200 individuals and Whanau trusts. All shareholders have whakapapa back to Rangiwaea Island. The Trust is based on Rangiwaea Island and is responsible for the development of an economic business based on the utilization of its land for horticultural, agricultural and pastoral purposes.

The aims of the trust are :

1. To establish a self-sustaining, profitable business entity.

2. To returning profits to the owners in the form of grants and dividends.

3. Retention of ownership of Rangiwaea Island.

He and his wife Monica have 3 children – a daughter who is about to join the Navy, a son who is finishing high school, and a toddler.

Monica is involved with the admin side of the business, while Brendon works across all areas of his orchard, forestry and dairy farm. He also employs 5 permanent staff and about 16 part time workers.

One of the best attributes of the island is its own micro-climate producing early kiwifruit, avocados and maize, giving the growers on Matakana a distinct advantage in getting produce to the market before the mainland crops are ready.

Brendon oversees 22 hectares of kiwifruit. Most of it goes to Japan and he has recently returned from a sales trip there. They had just started to expand their kiwifruit production when the Psa virus arrived so they have now stopped expansion until things look more secure. In the meantime they are being very proactive about protection measures and are putting in a 10 metre high orchard boundary protection cloth, as the virus can apparently be airborne. Brendon also hopes that living on the island will offer additional protection.

As well as kiwifruit they have 4 hectares of avocados and a pine forestry block which will mature in 2015. They are already looking into alternatives to replace the pines and will be trialing some gingko soon. Other possibilities are ginseng and manuka honey.