Interview with Wayne Peters

Wayne and Joy Peters on their farm
Wayne and Joy Peters on their farm

Wayne Peters and wife Joy Peters live on Kent Road

In November 2011, Prime Minister John Key presented a Taranaki Regional Council certificate to Wayne Peters for completing the riparian planting programme on their farm.

He believes in the Maori concept of mauri – or life-force – and notes that some plants seem to wait until the time is right for them to grow.

A protected stream on the farm
A protected stream on the farm

The farm is our land, but we share it with the birds and the trees. I’m the custodian and I’m trying to help.

Wayne also said in the Taranaki Daily News Dec 2011 When I look at it, I see peace, I see harmony, I see beauty and I see myself as one of the luckiest people in the world. Being here with my friends and family, the bush, the trees and the birds is an absolute privilege.

Establishing stands of native bush on my farm has been a spiritual journey as much as a practical one. Riparian planting is so much more than protecting the river banks. It is about being a spiritual part of the land. I have learned a lot from maoridom and I regard myself as being a maori (with a small m) as opposed to Maori (which I am not). I have learned so much from the bush. It’s important that it be a labour of love. It is a brilliant journey!

In terms of childhood, my Dad was the 2nd generation; I am the 3rd and our son is the 4th generation farming here. The generational involvement (maoridom) ties you to the land. My childhood memories are about trout fishing in the river. We also caught a 15lb eel under a crossing in the creek. In the creeks there were kukapu, karawai(native crayfish) and striped kukapu – we used to catch them. Heaps of possums to shoot. My father always talked of Maori with great respect and he encouraged me into maoridom thinking.

I grew up beside my father, I milked the cows before going to school… we had 100 cows. When we came here in 1955 Dad had 60 cows on 140 acres… it was 2-3 years before we saw the river – gorse, blackberry & bracken fern – he used a blackberry harrow which had a 45 degree tyne to take the roots out. Dad spent virtually all his spare time spraying gorse.

In the early years before tankers, the cream went to Mangorei Coop near the power station, for butter production. One of the jobs when I came home from school was to get the cream cans in off the stand (on the roadside). Dad took then out, because we had a cart that we pulled by hand – it was very tough heavy work. Hogan Brothers picked up the cream and took it down to the factory. We had pigs here.

What does the river mean to me? The river is very important to me as a boundary, but it is also a good place to be. Now that the planting is mature you can go and sit by the river and be enveloped by the trees meeting over the water. The river has strength and you get a feeling of awe. You know what it is capable of doing of course.

I don’t think the urban people in New Plymouth have any understanding of what farmers are doing to protect the river. While farm prices rapidly go up there is little chance of resolving the water quality or pollution problems in NZ because farmers are put under such pressure to produce more to pay the loans off. A Capital Gains Tax would help solve the problem.

Farm tree planting – if I was planting a riverside from bare pasture, I would plant flax splitting it up into fans with roots, making a slot with a spade, plant and stamp on it. Plant at 2 metre intervals, that density is perfect for flax. Find kotukutuku (tree fuchsia), cut branches at 45 degree, leave the top square and hit into the ground during winter (1/3rd in the ground). I would plant it all like that and walk away and allow nature to do its thing. You have to control invading weeds like blackberry during the first 5yrs. By tending and caring for it between 5-10 years you would see an explosion of ferns – ground ferns and tree ferns (Mamaku). You have to have shade – then you will see Coprosma Robusta (Karamu) and Australis or Grandifolia (Kanono) and you are away running. This land will revert quickly.

Wayne refers to himself as just a custodian of his farm but one with undisputed empathy for the flora and fauna of the area. His family farms 100 hectares, milking 180 cows on hilly country. They have transformed a farm where cows drank from its 50 unfenced creeks which form part of the Mangorei river watershed, into a property where maybe the bush is perhaps more important than the cows.

Wayne Peters with Tom Phillips
Wayne Peters with Tom Phillips