The Ahuwhenua Trophy is the most prestigious award for Māori agriculture, originally launched in 1933 by the visionary Māori leader Sir Apirana Ngata and the Governor General at the time Lord Bledisloe. Since the re-launch of the competition in 2003 Māori agribusiness is now seen as an integral part of the New Zealand economy.

The Ahuwhenua Trophy competition was introduced to encourage skill and proficiency in Māori farming. Sir Apirana Ngata realised the importance of retaining and improving what remained of Māori land was critical. He led the renaissance of Māori land development which had been decimated during the colonisation of New Zealand by forced sales and lack of opportunity and access to development capital.

William (Bill) Swinton, the inaugural winner of 1933, received the trophy from Lord Bledisloe. Apirana Ngata is in the background. Source: Ranginui Walker's biography of Apirana Ngata (2001, Viking). The inaugural 1933 competition was open to individual dairy farmers in the Waiariki Land district and was won by William Swinton from Raukokore, Bay of Plenty. The following year the competition was extended to include entrants from North and South Auckland, Gisborne, Whanganui and Wellington.

In 1936 the cup was won by Henry Dewes, a sheep farmer from Tikitiki. The Trophy was displayed in the Waiapu Farmers store which two weeks later caught fire and destroyed the cup. It was replaced with a new cup in 1938 but six years later that trophy was lost during a rail trip from Rotorua to Wellington. It was eventually found in 1946 in a Frankton store after being mislaid with someone’s personal belongings at the railway station.

The inappropriateness of comparing dairy with sheep and beef farms became increasingly evident and in 1954 the competition was divided into two separate awards, each with their own trophy. Once again, Lord Bledisloe, a man with farming interests donated the companion cup.

The competition continued up until the 1980s but interest started to wane and the last of the original competitions was held in 1990. It was Gina Rudland and Wayne Walden who along with Meat New Zealand chairman John Acland re-launched the awards in 2003. The new criteria for the awards took into account the changing face of Māori farming and the increasing importance of Māori Incorporations and Trusts in the agribusiness sector.

In 2005, the Ahuwhenua Management Committee decided on a new structure for the competition with sheep and beef and dairy competitions being run in alternate years.

The Ahuwhenua Trophy competition Trustees are the Minister for Māori Development, the Minister of Primary Industries and the Chief Executive of Te Puni Kōkiri. They delegate their authority to the Ahuwhenua Management Committee to manage and supervise the competition. The current Chairman, Kingi Smiler, has held that position since 2007.

The first bi-annual dairy competition, held in 2006 was won by the Parininihi ki Waitotara (PKW) Incorporation’s Farm 12 in Taranaki under the chairmanship of Spencer Carr and Secretary Peter Charleton. Previous Chairmen of PKW Edward Tamati and Charles Bailey were dual winners of the Trophy as individual farmers in 1965 and 1971, 1970 and 1976 respectively.

A new award for young Māori farmers was introduced in 2012. The first winner of the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer Award was Tangaroa Walker. The 2017 Sheep and Beef Award was won by Jordan Biddle.

Today the Ahuwhenua Trophy remains the pre-eminent accolade to win in Māori farming and is recognised as the most prestigious and comprehensively judged award in New Zealand. The entrants, finalists and eventual winners all share and the live the enduring values, goals and vision of Sir Apirana Ngata and the competitive spirit of Lord Bledisloe.

A special book, Ahuwhenua – Celebrating 80 years of Māori Farming was launched by the then Minister of Māori Affairs, Hon Dr Pita Sharples in 2013. It was written by the eminent historian Dr Danny Keenan and traces the history of the Award and gives a quite brilliant insight into the development of Māori farming over 80 years. This book shows just how much Māori farming has developed over the years and how the Ahuwhenua Trophy has established a strong platform for the future growth.