Fieldays Focus: The secret to Onuku Māori Lands’ success

Landscape image of a hilly New Zealand farm

We’re lucky to have our customer Onuku Māori Lands speaking in our Fieldays tent this year, to share their incredible story of how they’re leading the way in the sector, building a strong profitable agribusiness and protecting their land for future generations.

Set in one of New Zealand’s most volcanically active areas, Onuku Māori Lands have seamlessly merged new technology and sustainable practices to develop a thriving farming and forestry business. Onuku have embraced the land, and the challenges it presents, to become one of the most successful farming units in the Bay of Plenty.

The lay of the land

The eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 caused massive devastation to the landscape in the Rotorua region. It ripped across the eastern end of Tarawera, split the beds of two lakes, opened up the land and left behind a thick layer of mud and ash.

As a result, the soil took on some very unique properties. The Tarawera ash allowed water to drain through in the wet times, while the Rotomahana mud hung on to moisture in the dry seasons. Together, they blended to become the ultimate foundation for farming.

The legacy

Although the eruption caused widespread damage and destroyed one of the wonders of the world in the Pink and White Terraces, it left the area with a magnificent legacy that Onuku Māori Lands have built on.

Originally divided into six parts, the Tarawera land was handed back to the owners in 1982. It has since gone from strength to strength and now boasts four dairy farms, a drystock unit, a forestry block, and an export business.

The company’s goal is to achieve global recognition as a Māori brand that delivers high quality, authentic, traceable and environmentally sustainable products to the world.

One of their major challenges is balancing the needs of the current generation of owners, while also supporting the next. With 4,000 current owners, they know it’s essential to remain environmentally focused in order to protect their legacy and ensure their mokopuna will be able to proudly stand on Onuku soil in a thousand years’ time.

How they do it

Over time, the group has developed the Rotomahana site and other interests into a $40 million business. This success is built on a number of factors:

  • Planting native trees around Lake Rotomahana helped it remain one of the purest bodies of water in the region.
  • Using smaller paddocks and central laneways has seen an increase of up to 20% in ROI, with better soil and increased productivity across the business. They have now set aside 742 hectares of reserves, planted forestry, and retired riparian strips as they continue to look after the land.
  • Developed their Boundary Road farm into an outstanding operation – providing opportunities for trust owners to train in farm management. Boundary Road also won 2018 BNZ Ahuwhenua Trophy for Excellence in Māori Farming. 
  • Constantly evolving and seeking ways to diversify, creating opportunities to expand their portfolio, such as the recent expansion into honey.
  • Becoming a part-owner in Origins Software has allowed them to utilise Near-field Communications (NFC) technology to promote their honey story. Each pack has a unique NFC code that is registered to Onuku Limited and is part of a multi-tier authentication and anti-counterfeiting system.     

By overcoming challenges, embracing technology and developing sustainable farming practices, Onuku Māori Lands have managed to propel themselves towards extraordinary success. Now one of the jewels in the Bay of Plenty’s farming crown, the business looks set to remain prosperous for many generations to come.