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Maize helps develop Maori Trust land

Vaughan Going with his son Leo.

Maize helps develop Maori Trust land

2009/10 Season

Owners: Vaughan and Amanda Going
Farm location: Northland
Farm size: 120 ha
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 37Y12, 38B85
Number of seasons growing: 2

Moving from the professional international rugby scene to developing land and growing maize in Northland has provided a new set of challenges for maize grain grower Vaughan Going.

Vaughan was overseas for 15 years, initially working as an investment broker and then, when rugby went professional, playing the game in Hong Kong, England and France. In 2008 he returned home to Northland with his English wife Amanda, a management consultant, and their three children Giselle (8), Luca (5) and Leo (3). The aim was to give the children a ‘Kiwi’ upbringing. Once home, Vaughan recognised the potential in his whanau lands and took up the challenge of converting 120 ha of weeds, blackberry and ti-tree into maize.

The land, which is situated at Pipiwai, 45 km north-west of Whangarei, is part of the 3,000 ha Te Orewai Te Horo Trust, which is owned by more than 800 shareholder families, including Vaughan’s grandmother. It had reverted to a mix of weeds, scrub and regenerating native plants after being returned to its original owners by the Department of Maori Affairs over 20 years ago.

The area, which is situated between Mt Hikurangi and Mt Motatau, has its own micro climate. After research, consultation with industry professionals and whanau, together with analysis of demand and availability of contractors, Vaughan decided there was potential for maize.

"Once the land was broken in, I thought I could potentially run a maize cropping operation over the phone," says Vaughan, who has a commercial finance broking company in Auckland.

"I did the sums and worked out maize could help pay for the re-development of the land within a few seasons, whereas it would take 10 years or more with traditional livestock operations."

Maize also offered the immediate benefits of improving deteriorating land, thereby adding capital value for the Trust while at the same time providing some local employment.

In the first year, the weeds, blackberry and ti-tree were sprayed out, cut and burnt, returning nutrients to the soil. The paddocks were ripped with a tyne setup, enabling the roots to be dragged to the edge of the paddocks.

"I had converted the land from scrub to maize in just a few months," says Vaughan. "It was a good thing I was still fit from professional rugby, because the scrub cutting and tractor hours were huge."

The initial crop required a significant application of various superphosphates at up to 1 t/ha and lime at 5 t/ha. Not surprisingly, weeds and numerous pests were a significant challenge and the crop yield was below average over the total area.

This season, Vaughan sought out specialist expertise and experience, by combining skills with local contractor David Wordsworth. Back in September 2009, Vaughan’s uncle Sid Going suggested a drought was on the horizon. Taking this into account, Vaughan looked for hybrids with the best drought tolerance ratings and planted Pioneer® brand 35Y33, 37Y12 and 38B85.

"The combination of river loam silt through to higher clay contents and lighter high ground soils, all unfertilised for over two decades, plus the harsh and variable Northland summer, meant we needed resilient hybrids able to perform across a range of soil types, soil fertility levels and unpredictable weather conditions," says Vaughan.

The current crop is on track to be harvested at the end of May and, to date, it looks like the yield will be better than expected given the record-breaking drought in Northland this season.

"It’s been a huge change and challenge for me and I’ve learnt a lot," says Vaughan. "I enjoy growing maize and seeing the Pipiwai valley turned around so quickly is deeply satisfying."