Trustee rotation drives fresh thinking

Trustee rotation drives fresh thinking
A recent field day at Te Awahohonu Forest Trust’s Gwavas Station; Trust chairman Bob Cottrell

Strong governance with succession strategies, to maintain knowledge and develop new leaders, was a key point in Te Awahohonu Forest Trust’s Gwavas Station’s recent selection as a finalist in the Ahuwhenua Trophy, Te Puni Kokiri Excellence in Maori Farming Award.
Bob Cottrell, chairman of the Trust, says that it was in the early 2000s a change was made to the governance allowing for a rotation of trustees every five years rather than people being elected to the position for life.
He says this brought in new ideas and helped foster knowledge while allowing for the development of tomorrow’s leaders. A Pakeke trustee position was created.
The word Pakeke refers to an elder or wise person in Maori and Bob says this allowed for people to retire when they felt the time was right but for the Trust to still retain and draw on their many years of experience and knowledge.
An assistant trustee programme brings balance at the other end where young people can apply to gain experience on the Trust.
“Both these positions give no voting rights but it’s about giving people a way to exit when they feel the time is right and also bring in new people who have skills to contribute. For example, the assistant trainee can gain experience on a commercial board, which they may go on to utilise for this Trust or another. They usually complete a project for the Trust in line with their skill set. Of the seven assistant trustees that have been through the programme so far, three have ended up as full trustees for Te Awahohonu Forest Trust following the retirement of other trustees,” he explains.
The electoral process is also unique for a Maori Trust, he says, in that voting is based on shares rather than one person, one vote.
Bob says that this has resulted in better decision making. Te Awahohonu Forest Trust was formed in 1971 and is constituted by the Maori Land Court as an Ahu Whenua Trust.
The Trust administers Tarawera C9 comprising 20,960ha in total, 8,428ha in Awahohonu forest, 2,623ha in Tarawera Station, and 9,909ha Ahimanawa (native). In addition to Tarawera C9, the Trust owns 1,000ha at Gwavas Station, and a further 160ha farming property neighbouring Tarawera Station.
Gwavas Station was purchased by the Trust in 2011 and is located just north of Tikokino in Central Hawke’s Bay. The Trust also leases a further 178ha of adjoining land combining to provide an effective farming area of 989 hectares.
Approximately 70% of the farm is flat to easy rolling country with the balance consisting of moderately steeper hills and steep faces connecting with lower terraces and riverbeds.
The farm is run with three full time labour units made up of a farm manager and two shepherds. The farm also has the input of the overall Trust farm operations manager and the support of a farm consultant.
The objective for the Trust is to finish all stock bred off Tarawera Station and maximise returns through optimising slaughter weights and specifications alongside a profile of a broader out of season stock supply. The farm winters nearly 12,000 stock units comprising approximately 50% cattle and 50% sheep.
Between 14,000 and 16,000 lambs and approximately 800 cattle are finished annually depending on the season. Since it was purchased Gwavas Station has undergone an intensive redevelopment programme including refencing 65 paddocks to 290 paddocks and putting in a reticulated water system delivering water to each paddock.
This has allowed the Trust to utilise its land classes fully with stock systems that assist in growing stock and managing feed with more precision, says Bob. Soil is tested annually over the whole property and since 2011 Olsen P levels have gone from 5-13 to 13-25.
Pasture renewal is via a summer and winter rape and summer brassica crop programme.
Other goals include adapting the Trust farms to be more resilient to issues such as climate change and regional plans, developing people through technology and training and optimising the current farm system to be both profitable and environmentally sustainable as each generation of Trustees is expected to manage and pass on the assets of the Trust in better condition than when they were received, says Bob.
This is also a consideration for future marketing of their product: “We know consumers will be increasingly wanting to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. We feel we can create a point of difference to obtain a premium in the marketplace.”
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