A profitable dairy farm doesn't have to come at the cost of the environment, say South Taranaki dairy farmers Jane and Damian Roper.
The Roper family and members of the community have built Ōhuarai pā i te kohu, a pā (a traditional Māori defensive terrace) for the propagation and growing of native trees such as tawa, pukatea, swamp maire, hinau, manuka and rata.
"We have been learning te reo Māori since last year,” says Jane. “Not only have we begun to learn the language but also the culture, the history and the strong Māori values relating to the protection of land and the environment. We wanted to bring Māori culture and its set of values into our farming operation.”
Their farm vision is to show it’s possible to run a tidy, profitable and efficient dairy farm with minimal impact to the environment, using both Māori and modern science practices - something they are both passionate about. Damian says building the pā is the start of their journey into this.
"With help, advice and guidance from our iwi Ngāti Ruanui, our Marae Wharepuni and our local community the Tūwatawata (stockade) Pā was built. It houses two whare, a propagation house for the germinating of seeds named Rongo-marae-roa (house of generosity and hospitality) and a second shadehouse named Tāne- māhuta for the on-growing of the trees before planting out."
The pā, which stretches 70 metres along a hilltop and encompasses almost half a hectare of land, has been built with nearly 4,000 round fence posts in different lengths, their tips shaped to sharp points.
The high walls act as a very effective windbreak, sheltering the large plastic-clad propagation house and once the irrigation system is set up, the family will use the new buildings to seriously ramp up production of native trees and plants.
Winners of the Fonterra Responsible Dairying award in 2019, the Ropers have planted about 18,000 indigenous trees around the property since they bought it in 2006, and plan to supply others with trees once they have them in production.
"This isn't a commercial enterprise, but a way we can help other farmers become enthusiastic about the benefits of indigenous plantings. We are wanting to bring back the biodiversity and birdlife back to our doorsteps, back to our farms. If we are going to be predator-free by 2050, we are going to need a lot of habitat and feed trees for the increase in native birds.”
Built over the summer, it was a team effort by about 20 people in the community, from builders and tradespeople to iwi members who gave cultural advice.
Representatives from Ngati Ruanui iwi blessed the pā at the official opening, and Area Manager Darryl Heibner and the local Farm Source team were on hand to provide a BBQ lunch for the crowd.