Sustaining past, present and future

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South Kaipara Head farming business Otakanini Topu’s goal is to become more profitable, but not at the expense of land or water quality, and with due care for important ancestral sites – all part of their sustainable farming plan.

Otakanini Topu is a 2750ha property just north of Helensville, running sheep and beef and 600ha of forestry. With 600ha of mangroves and mudflats and 1550ha of effective pastures, the farm runs from Muriwai Beach to the Kaipara Harbour, and most of the land drains towards the harbour. The lightest land is the sand hill country to the west, which runs up to 190m ASL.

Since Manager Ray Monk started on the farm in the drought of 2008/9, Otakanini Topu, has seen many changes. In order to know what base resources he was working with, Ray gathered information for the first 12 months – the farm’s soils were tested and profiled, then mapped for land use capability and soil degradation; in addition, a fertiliser programme was developed to suit the new regime.

The St Peter’s students at work; earlier Otakanini Trust Board member, ecologist Malcolm Patterson, talked with the boys and Rotarians about the history of the property, which is laden with pa sites and middens.

A farm plan was drawn up including farm policies, environmental issues as well as cultural and heritage sites. The stock policy has changed from store to finishing and an animal health programme developed. A new stock mix has been introduced and land usage adopted that reflects the prevailing conditions and long term environmental objectives.

Ray’s focus has been to ensure the farm is geared up to cope with environmental impacts, one of which is the problem of sand blow. The hills were moving with the wind when he first started as a result of grazing by heavy cattle, so now sheep are run on the light sandy country.

Development is a balancing act; they want to increase the production on the farm, but need more water and better pastures in order to do so.

Otakanini is part of the Kaipara Harbour Management Group of people which is interested in looking after the water quality and health of the Kaipara Harbour. The group has several flagship farms around the harbour and works on mitigating problems.

Rodney District Council and now the Auckland Council have been involved with tree planting in 2012 and again this year.  The farm is also fencing off waterways and works with TfS school St Peter’s College to plant areas along the wetlands with native trees.

A new water system being installed is positioned to ensure they don’t put pipes through any pa sites or sites of cultural significance – of which there are many on the farm.

The Council has also been helping with grants for this work. It’s an on-going project Ray explains, “We want eventually to fence off all the waterways that lead to the harbour.” But first they must provide alternative water supplies for stock, and they are currently on stage two of a five-stage water reticulation project.

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