Māori trusts to build unique geothermal milk plant

10:52 am on 7 April 2017

A group of Māori trusts is spearheading a first-of-its-kind milk processing plant in Kawerau, which will create 30 jobs.

Dairy cow close up generic

Photo: 123rf.com

Kawerau Dairy is made up of seven Māori entities, which are aiming to build the first geothermal-powered plant in the country to process milk from goats, sheep and cows.

The groups involved are Te Manawa o Tūhoe, Māori Investments, Putauaki Trust, Ngati Makino, Rotoiti 15, Tataiwhetu Lands Trust and Poutama.

The plant is expected to be making products to sell by late 2018.

Poutama Trust project leader Richard Jones said it would be the only plant in New Zealand using geothermal energy to turn cow, goat and sheep milk into powder.

That will then be used to make protein powder, vitaminised powder, aged-care formula and baby formula.

"It seems a bit different because we are so brought up on knowing just about dairy cows - not dairy goats and dairy sheep - but in other parts of the world it is pretty common," he said.

Plans for the new plant have been in the pipeline since 2012 but its feasibility study has just been given the tick of approval.

Mr Jones said it was a win for the seven Māori entities involved and a win for local Māori farmers, who would also reap benefits.

"We do not need a large amount of cows with this plant. I think it is up to a maximum of 7000 to start off with. So amongst our immediate group, we have got about 6000 cows all on Māori farms."

The farms and the dairy plant will be closely integrated, he said.

"Bringing in the whole environmental aspect, the geothermal aspect and then wrapping a good sort of cultural sort of Māori story around that about our connection to the land."

A 750kg drier for cow milk would be built as part of the first stage, with another drier for goat and sheep milk scheduled for the second stage.

The plant would be small compared to others in the dairy scene but was expected to create 30 jobs in Kawerau, something mayor Malcolm Campbell welcomed.

"If we can have our young people working right here, locally in Kawerau or anywhere in the Eastern Bay that is close to home, is a plus," he said.

The plant would be the second geothermal-powered plant owned by Māori, the first being Miraka near Taupō.

Putauaki Trust owns the land that the new plant will be built on and its chairman Tiaki Hunia said Māori could be huge players in this industry.

"The dairy industry is coming under pressure at the moment in terms of some of the public impressions around what is happening with fresh water.

"Dairy industry does contribute to that but there are a lot of very good dairy farmers out there too and I like to think that our Māori dairy farms are even better.

"We are different in that we will never sell our land. And we will never sell our farms. So it is quite a different outlook, in terms of that long-term intergenerational view."

Mr Hunia, who is also the deputy Māori Trustee at Te Tumu Paeroa, said using renewable geothermal energy was a good move.

"The ideal world would be when we are feeding our children and we are feeding the world on milk that has come off our land, our farms, milked by our people, processed through our plant and branded with our name.

"But the benefits of it are benefits for the whole country and the whole industry."

Mr Jones said the Kawerau plant would cost about $33 million and the Māori groups involved so far paying for half of that.

"That is the whole drive behind the project, Māori are involved all the way, in every key aspect of this project.

"Right from the farms, from the land, from the animals and the people to the processing plant."