February 2, 2024

The People behind KMR – Penny Smart and Hal Harding – Aoroa Farms

Penny Smart and Hal Harding are fulfilling on their aspirations to do right by the environment.

They have always taken a strong interest in looking after the land and resting areas of their 480-hectare (320ha effective) Aoroa farm.

Many years ago, they were one of the inaugural members of the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group (IKHMG) and became a Flagship farm, planting around four hectares of natives with the assistance of the group.

Then three years ago, 20ha of mature pine was sold off the farm and 15ha replanted in a 50/50 manuka and eucalyptus split.

Now they are leading the charge – and leading by example – in the area to encourage other farmers to work with the Kaipara Moana Remediation programme.

In fact, since collaborating with KMR in 2023, they have planted over 47,000 native flax, shrubs and trees on approximately 20ha of the farm to protect and restore their wetlands – and have more to go! Currently they have around 130ha of Aoroa Farms is now mainly in maturing, regenerating or recently planted natives.

Penny and Hal are clearly helping chart the way for others by becoming KMR ‘Navigators’.

‘Navigator projects’ were introduced by the KMR team in 2023 as flagship projects that aim to demonstrate and champion best practice in reducing sediment losses from the land, increase biodiversity and share learnings with others; in their community, with iwi/hapū and within their farming sector.

Their KMR Navigator project will significantly extend protection and restoration of the wetlands across the property, also supporting rare and hard-to-spot matuku hūrepo (bittern) as well as a native orchid.

Penny and Hal’s dairy farm is a mix of rolling Te Kōpuru sand hills and Kaipara flats, in the Northern Wairoa sub-catchment of the Kaipara Moana catchment and in the Kaipara plant eco-district.

The couple have worked hard over the decades to exclude stock and undertake planting on the steeper areas and in the natural wetland areas. In total, the couple have approximately 30ha of wetlands, with the largest an impressive 15ha – a beautiful area to view.

“We feel it is a real privilege to be part of the KMR Navigator project. The KMR crew are great to work with – Justine and her team are doing really well. Biodiversity and sediment reduction is so necessary in the Kaipara”.

“We will have additional planting in years to come, including planting more canopy trees (Tī kōuka or Cabbage Tree, Kōwhai, Taraire, Karaka, Kahikatea, Houpara, Karo and Totara among other natives), now we have a nice amount of nurse trees in the ground.”

The farm is a once-a-day split calving dairy unit milking 650 cows with a strong focus on the natural system, prioritising soil health and adopting biological practices as much as possible.

And with so many trees in the ground, Penny and Hal’s focus is on looking after the trees.

With the Navigator project, they plan to regularly invite all community – local and non-local – to visit and assist, in the ongoing planting, releasing and management of the wetlands on the farm.

They also hope to initiate biodiversity monitoring and research opportunities in years to come.

“Along with sediment retention, we hope to progress towards a healthy and thriving biodiversity within the wetlands and all parts of the farm”.

“We would love the entire Kaipara catchment on board with KMR as biodiversity and sediment reduction are so necessary to the sustainability and the enhancement of the harbour, the wetlands and the land”.

“Ultimately, we intend to have a fully environmentally sustainable property, leaving a legacy we and future generations can be proud of,” the pair say.

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