Tūhono Whenua: Benchmarking Framework for Māori Agribusiness

Māori agribusiness is a key component of the New Zealand agricultural industry.

Approximately 1.55 million hectares, or six per cent of New Zealand’s total land area, has been identified as Māori freehold land (including farms owned by individual farms and those run or managed by trusts and incorporations). Agricultural assets held by Māori trusts, incorporations and other groups total $2.5 billion.

Yet there is room to improve. The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has estimated that up to 80 per cent of Māori farms may be underperforming, says AgResearch Māori Portfolio Leader Chris Koroheke. “Imagine the value available to whānau connected with those lands, in terms of career pathways for the young people, re-establishing ties with the land and the ability to create new futures for Māori people across the primary industries. By combining science research, good business practices and sound governance, together with innovation behind Māori resources, imagine what New Zealand’s GDP could be like in the future?”

The Tūhono Whenua Benchmarking project aims to improve Māori agribusiness through the development of an online benchmarking and monitoring information service.

The project, financed primarily by MPI’s Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) and led by the Federation of Māori Authorities (FOMA) in partnership with Beef & Lamb NZ, Dairy NZ, Te Tumu Paeroa (Māori Trustee) and Fonterra, began in December 2012 and will run for three years, concluding at the end of November 2015.

“Benchmarking is a critical aspect of farm management, so you can compare your farm’s performance and make adjustments accordingly,” says Tūhono Whenua’s project manager Phil Journeaux. He says it’s vital for farmers to benchmark themselves against similar farm systems, as well as the wider industry, to identify where they can make improvements.

In the initial stages of the project, Māori farms were identified. Six pilot farms were recruited in Gisborne and Rotorua (including two dairy and four sheep and beef farms).

A benchmarking database, or framework, was developed by Farmax for dairy and dry stock farmers. This database, owned by FOMA, was made available to pilot farms from May 2014. Farmers were asked to input data relating to their animals and other environmental, financial and social key performance indicators (KPIs).

Information from the database is helping those pilot farmers track their performance. It is hoped that the application of benchmarking information will improve the governance and management capability of those Māori farms. “It’s still early days but pilot project farmers are interested and are seeing the benefits of benchmarking,” says  Mr Journeaux.

Next year the database will be extended to other regions, as part of the project. “The more farms you have got, the better the benchmarking is,” says Mr Journeaux. “Māori farmers are the first target, but any farmer who is interested can be on the database.”

It is also planned to link the framework to other databases, such as Dairybase and Beef & Lamb’s database.

In the future it is hoped that the benchmarking framework will be adopted by someone who can continue the project as a business venture, and further promote the benefits of benchmarking to the industry.