This year was the first time horticulturalists have been included in the competition. In the past it has been restricted to dairy or sheep and beef farmers, with competitions for each held in alternate years.
Ahuwhenua Trophy management committee chair Kingi Smiler says in the past 20 years the New Zealand horticulture sector has become one of the stars of the primary sector and Maori have been an integral part of that growth.
“Since the inception of this competition we have seen what our sheep and beef and dairy farmers can do, and now it is great to have the opportunity to showcase the excellence of our horticulturalists,” Smiler said.
He says while the sector is now thriving, the industry has been through hard times – especially the kiwifruit sector, which has had to deal with the significant effect of the Psa vine disease.
“What we see in our finalists in 2020 is a unique combination of vision, resilience, innovation, good governance, smart management and a commitment to their people,” Smiler said.
Hineora Orchard is a Maori freehold land block in Te Kaha, 65km east of Opotiki in eastern Bay of Plenty.
The trust behind the orchard runs a kiwifruit joint venture, a commercial packhouse that is home to kiwifruit spraying company, which the trust has shares in, and a four bedroom home for accommodation at the block.
Prior to the trust’s creation in 1970, the land was largely occupied by different whanau who farmed the block, maintaining a subsistence living, growing a range of fruit and vegetables for the local community.
By 1998 the trustees recognised they were asset rich but lacked capital to develop their land.
At the time, a group of eastern Bay of Plenty orchardists were seeking opportunities to develop the then new Gold variety of kiwifruit and were prepared to enter into 50:50 joint ventures with trusts, providing capital investment to the value of the land contributed for development by landowners.
The Hineora Orchard operation began the following year, with it originally intended to run until 2021.
The land and its orchard operation is now due to be returned to 100% trust ownership by 2023.
The trustees, who have each served more than 15 years on the trust, jointly manage an 8.13ha G3 SunGold kiwifruit orchard, producing more than 133,000 trays annually.
The trust was also influential in the establishment of Te Whanau-a-Apanui Fruitgrowers Incorporated – a charitable community education outreach group responsible for upskilling 60 workers to level 4 horticulture qualifications, as well as supporting local people to build diploma level courses.
Smiler says Te Kaha 15B Hineora Orchard trustees have shown great vision, persistence and resilience to establish their operation and achieve some impressive results.
Smiler also praised the other finalists: Otama Marere in Paengaroa near the Bay of Plenty town of Te Puke, which grows a mixture on Green; SunGold and organic kiwifruit, as well as avocados; and Ngai Tukairangi Trust, a large kiwifruit operation with one of its orchards at Matapihi, a few kilometres from the Tauranga city centre.
“All three finalists have helped set a benchmark for future entrants in this competition that will be hard to eclipse,” he said.
“What makes it more impressive is the fact that they have done this in one of the most difficult times in the history of the country, when uncertainty is a way of life.”
Standard of young growers high
The winner of the inaugural Ahuwhenua Young Maori Grower Award is Maatutaera Akonga, senior leading hand at Llewellyn Horticulture in Hastings.
The other two finalists were Seeka trainee orchard manager Brandon Cross of Tauranga and Maungatapere Berries packhouse manager Finnisha Tuhiwai.
Award judge Aaron Hunt, from Te Tumu Paeroa, an organisation that supports Maori landowners to protect and enhance their land, says the standard of competition entrants was very high, which reflects the number of young Maori who are making successful careers in horticulture.
As part of the judging process the finalists took part in a two-day study tour that included a visit to the Plant and Foods Hawke’s Bay research centre, along with other horticultural operations, and an opportunity to meet Maori leaders in the sector.