Tarawera Station is a relatively minor portion of Te Awahohonu Forest Trust’s 21,000ha land-based asset, but remains its oldest business.
In 1965, six years before the Trust was formed, the farm was developed under Part 24 of the Maori Affairs Act 1953.
The Trust took control of the farm’s operations In 1987 following its return to its Ngati Kahunungu and Ngati Hineuru owners. Its first priority was to reduce a $560,000 debt.
The 2623ha hill country property sits between 340m and 740m above sea level on a plateau of predominantly pumice soils and has been building performance since 1991. Today, Tarawera runs nearly 30,000 stock units on 2865 effective hectares, including recently leased land adjoining the main farm.
Its Highlander composite flock includes 16000 ewes and 5,000 replacement ewe lambs with high lambing percentage records and carcass quality put down to better feeding and improved genetics.
The Red Stabilizer beef herd is made up of 1,000 breeding cows plus heifer replacements and finishing steers and bulls. Calving is around 85% with all surplus cattle finished prime.
Fertilizer is applied annually over the whole farm and feed budgeting ensures early decisions can be made around feed supply and feed allocation. Stock numbers will be down this year due to the impacts of drought but on average the farm produces between 8 - 9 tonne DM/ha each year.
Over the last two decades Tarawera’s1150 shareholders have benefited from two increases in annual cash dividends. Social benefits are also provided via contributions to marae and through an annual education grant. Te Awahohonu Forest Trust has also invested in Miraka Ltd .
Trust succession planning is facilitated through the capacity building Assistant Trustee Programme, which develops future leaders by involving them in board activities. In 2013, with support from BNZ, one young owner joined the crew of the Spirit of Adventure as part of the Trust’s rangatahi leadership development programme.
The Tarawera team manages its environmental responsibility through a number of initiatives including fencing and protecting riparian margins and installing alternative water reticulation systems for stock.
Tarawera also regularly benchmarks itself against its peers by taking part, often successfully, in farming competitions. In 2009, for example, Station manager Carl Read-Jones won the Silver Fern Farms’ Hawke’s Bay Farmer of the Year competition.
Tarawera maintains over 10,000ha in mature native forest, home to protected bird species such as the Whio (Blue-billed duck) and Kiwi. A similar area is in production forest.
The majority of the farm adjoins production forested and undeveloped land to the north, west and south with the eastern and northern boundaries being the Mohaka and Waipunga rivers. The forest and bush boundaries make it susceptible to possums and other vector pests and TB in cattle is an issue. A rigorous control programme managed by the Animal Health Board, which includes annual cattle testing has been undertaken for a number of years.
Despite such hurdles, when the Trust first entered the Ahuwhenua competition in 2004 it came out as the East Coast regional finalist.
No overall winner was announced that year but it was always the Trust’s intention to take another shot.
As one kaumatua explained; “We’ve got unfinished business.”