Friday, December 8, 2023

Farming by the numbers

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Maori Incorporations in farming represent a new wave of land development and export earnings. Whangara Farms is on the East Coast north of Gisborne, in Whale Rider (Paikea) country and is a successful hapu partnership model for a sustainable future while honouring the place and the past. Hugh Stringleman visited Whangara, courtesy of its board of management.
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Whangara Farms general manager Richard Scholefield loves measuring things to make progress.

Running the 8500ha, 75,000 stock unit beef and sheep farming business with 16 full-time staff members on five locations takes most of his waking hours but devising, recording and analysing the results of on-farm trials and projects really spins his wheels.

The corporate structure of Maori-owned Whangara Farms lends itself to how Richard runs things – the board of management consists of three owner-representatives and two independent members.

Retired former Landcorp Farming chief executive Bernard Card and award-winning dairy farmer and Maori farming adviser Murray Jamieson are those two independents, providing encouragement for new ventures and a wealth of farming management history.

Board chairwoman Ingrid Collins represents Whangara B5 Incorporation, the biggest of the partnership properties, Stan Pardoe represents Pakarae A Incorporation and Jacqueline Blake represents Tapuwae Whitiwhiti.

Well-known farm advisers are also used and their advice taken – Trevor Cook for animal health, Doug Edmeades for fertiliser and Tom Fraser on forages.

More than 2500 shareholders belong to three hapu or families who agreed to pool their resources and share the annual distributions according to their input proportions.

Part of the understanding is that improvement of farms and higher economic farm surpluses (EFS) benefit all members despite their different starting levels.

When the land can never be sold and is the turangawaewae (place of domicile, standing) for the families, sustainability takes on extra meaning.

Another important aspect of sustainability is encouraging young hapu shareholders to make farming their career through recognised training courses followed by employment with Whangara Farms.

Angus first-calving heifers were mated to low-birth weight Angus bulls.

The first is Merino genetics via AI and natural mating to produce fast growing Merino-Romney lambs with a finer wool bonus from shearing before slaughter. These genetics are bred for wool, worm resistance, foot rot and growth rate.

The Merino lamb meat is then marketed through NZ Merino and the Silere branded lamb. Whangara’s relationship with NZ Merino also covers strong wool supply to various high-end wool retailers via contracts. One is with Danish footwear makers Glerup, for their indoor shoes.

The second project is called Multiplier sheep with 500 top two- and four-tooth ewes AI-ed to selected elite Romney sires from Piquet Hills and ARDG, aimed at generating top ram hoggets by using 5K DNA tests. 

These ram hoggets will be used across the flock along with some older rams. 

“If we can produce a good ram hogget that ticks the boxes genetically and structurally then we will carry on and if we can’t we will go back to buying all our rams.” Scholefield said.

Whangara selects the ewe hoggets that are over 40kg on May 1 to be mated out of the 8500 replacements kept each year. This year 5500 were mated. 

“Our target is to mate 75% of our ewe hoggets but we don’t want to compromise on size and weight,” he said.

Overall reproductive performance last season was 139% lambing from the ewes and 75% from the ewe hoggets. 

“This is a very true result as we are independently audited annually with all livestock accounted for,” Scholefield said.

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