Ngā Tānga Kupu

Owners' Aspirations Regarding the Use of Māori Land

4. A Reinvigorated Farm Trust

Information was provided in relation to the use of a 1,500 ha block for farming. Records prior to 2000 indicated that this farm had been previously under-stocked with only 2,500 stock units. It was indicated that in the past the farm manager who had shares in the block had come from a position as head shepherd. He had been given incentives such as a free house and stock to grow for himself. However, there was not enough money to pay him and he had remained on a benefit.

The speaker indicated that around 2000 a meeting was held in relation to improving the land. It was noted that at that time there were 13 trustees involved in managing the land:

…it was all these family sort of leaders and they went on there for the wrong reasons. … so most of the discussion was really around the table about themselves and all the history and all … you know, their family did this to our family and … but the land kept on suffering.

To break the cycle, some of those sitting on the committee decided to step down and let new people come on. In addition, the number sitting on the committee decreased to five. These changes in governance enabled steps to be taken to improve the land. The need to base decisions on accurate information was pointed out. In relation to this in this case study the following steps were taken:

  • Funding through Community Employment for an advisor. Advice was provided in relation to the fundamental steps that needed to be taken in regards to matters such as feed, fencing and water. It was noted that they did not have the expertise themselves nor did they have the money to pay for an advisor without accessing the funding.
  • An aerial photograph of the property. This enabled them to see that there was only 225 hectares of effective land within the 1,500 hectares. This information led them to a decision to put 770 hectares into a ngā whenua rāhui. This gave them about $70,000 to $80,000 that they could then use to complete drainage on the property as this was one of the factors pointed out in the report from the outside advisor.
  • A regular reporting system involving the farm manager and the accountant was put in place.
  • Trustee meetings were held every two to three months with an annual AGM.

The relationship between the farm manager and the chairperson was considered crucial and it was indicated that communication and questions from the other trustees needed to go through the chairperson. There also needed to be performance measures in place in relation to the farm manager although in this case it was pointed out: “We couldn’t be too harsh, because we didn’t have much to offer …”

There were noted to be over 700 shareholders and in relation to communication it was commented: “How do you communicate with those 700 people? Do you really want them to come all to the AGM?” Trying to find owners was not an area that the Trust spent time on as they had no time to spend on it. Within this trust one family were noted to be the dominant shareholders and in regards to voting it was noted:

…There’s a clause in our trust order which says that you can do it by shares, and I said well that’s all we’ve got to do – you’ve just to get our whānau to turn up and block the meeting that way and get our resolutions through.

Over the nine years since the changes had been put in place, there was steady governance with the same five trustees remaining: “…every year there’s retirements by rotation, seeking re-election, [but] no one else puts their name forward.”

Overall, the trust had taken a conservative approach and had grown slowly. They had an overdraft facility and the banks had approached them in relation to lending them more money but they had refused because of the risks involved in getting into a position of not being able to keep up with interest payments. Their debt was noted to be at a manageable level. In regards to the type of farming they were engaged in it was also indicated that they had gone back to “tried and true” basic breeds.

Despite the fact that conditions were marginal and a lot of farmers had gone under, the speaker pointed out that they had managed to retain the land and that there had been improvements. These included an increase in stock units from 2,000 to over 5,000; the application of fertiliser; the completion of development work and the fact that the farm manager was also now being paid. In addition, the trust was also leasing a block of land in another area. Dividends were not paid out despite some requests from the shareholders.

Now that improvements had been put in place in relation to the farm, the trustees are considering other possibilities such as tourism and forestry. The amount of unpaid work involved in accessing information and completing feasibility studies in relation to exploring development options was pointed out.