It is now 91 years since the Ahuwhenua Trophy was inaugurated by the visionary Māori leader Sir Apirana Ngata and the Governor General at the time Lord Bledisloe, and the competition remains as relevant and as prestigious now as it was almost a century ago.

While the values and vision of Sir Apirana and Lord Bledisloe have remained unchanged, the way the competition is run has moved with the times – especially since its re-launch in 2003.

The Ahuwhenua Trophy competition was introduced to encourage skill and proficiency in Māori farming. Sir Apirana Ngata realised the importance of retaining and improving what remained of Māori land was critical. He led the renaissance of Māori land development which had been decimated during the colonisation of New Zealand by forced sales and lack of opportunity and access to development capital.

The inaugural 1933 competition was open to individual dairy farmers in the Waiariki Land district and was won by William Swinton from Raukokore, Bay of Plenty. The following year the competition was extended to include entrants from North and South Auckland, Gisborne, Whanganui, and Wellington.

In 1936 the cup was won by Henry Dewes, a sheep farmer from Tikitiki. The Trophy was displayed in the Waiapu Farmers store which two weeks later caught fire and destroyed the cup. It was replaced with a new cup in 1938 but six years later that trophy was lost during a rail trip from Rotorua to Wellington. It was eventually found in 1946 in a Frankton store after being mislaid with someone’s personal belongings at the railway station. The inappropriateness of comparing dairy with sheep and beef farms became increasingly evident and in 1954 the competition was divided into two separate awards, each with their own trophy. Once again Lord Bledisloe, a man with farming interests, donated the companion cup.

The competition continued up until the 1980s but interest started to wane and the last of the original competitions was held in 1990. It was Gina Rudland and Wayne Walden who along with Meat New Zealand chairman John Acland re-launched the awards in 2003. The awards took into account the changing face of Māori farming and the increasing importance of Māori Incorporations and Trusts in the agribusiness sector.

In 2005, the Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee decided on a new structure for the competition with sheep and beef and dairy competitions being run in alternate years. In recognition of Māori involvement in the horticultural sector, it was decided that in 2020, the competition would be opened up to also include horticulture. A new trophy was designed and made and there was excellent support for this initiative.

The Ahuwhenua Trophy competition Trustees are the Minister for Māori Development, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Secretary for Māori Development. They delegate their authority to the Ahuwhenua Trophy Management Committee to manage and supervise the competition. The current Chair, Nukuhia Hadfield, has held this position since July 2021.

The first bi-annual dairy competition held in 2006 was won by the Parininihi ki Waitotara (PKW) Incorporation’s Farm 12 in Taranaki under the chairmanship of Spencer Carr and Secretary Peter Charleton. Previous Chairmen of PKW Edward Tamati and Charles Bailey were dual winners of the Trophy as individual farmers in 1965 and 1971, 1970 and 1976 respectively.

An award for young Māori farmers and growers was introduced in 2012 and successive winners have demonstrated that rangatahi Māori have the leadership and management skills to take Māori agri and horticultural businesses forward in the 21st century. Māori success is centred around the need to provide for future generations and so this competition is about ‘future proofing’ Māori businesses.

A special book, Ahuwhenua – Celebrating 80 years of Māori Farming was launched by the then Minister of Māori Affairs, Hon Dr Pita Sharples in 2013. It was written by the eminent historian Dr Danny Keenan and traces the history of the Award and gives a quite brilliant insight into the development of Māori farming over 80 years. In 2023 the book was updated to include chapters on the introduction of the Horticulture award, and the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer/Grower awards, showing how much the Māori agricultural and horticultural sectors have developed over the years and how the Ahuwhenua Trophy has established a strong platform for the future growth.

Today the Ahuwhenua Trophy remains the preeminent accolade to win in Māori agriculture and horticulture and is recognised as the most prestigious and comprehensively judged award in New Zealand. The entrants, finalists and eventual winners all share and live the enduring values, goals, and vision of Sir Apirana Ngata and the competitive spirit of Lord Bledisloe.