Orchard wins enviro award
Matamata-based Southern Belle Orchards is the supreme winner of the 2015 Waikato Farm Environment Awards.
The business, run by Frans and Tineke de Jong, son Talbert de Jong and his partner Emily Meese grow feijoas and capsicums on a 5.05ha property purchased in 2003.
The awards promote sustainable land management on New Zealand farms and recognises and celebrates good farm practices. The awards run in 10 regions throughout the country.
The family-run business also collected the Harvest Award, the Innovation Award, the Integrated Management Award and the Soil Management Award at a ceremony on April 23.
The de Jongs were described by the award judges as industry leaders who are ‘‘paving the way and setting examples to follow’’.
Feijoas are produced in the 3.5ha orchard and capsicums are grown in 3000m2 of greenhouse. While a range of fruit and vegetables have been grown in the past, the de Jongs made the decision to concentrate on two main crops, focusing on quality and volume.
Feijoas are grown espalier- style for ease of management and harvest. This involves controlling plant growth by pruning and tying branches to a frame or structure.
The orchard’s original trees are gradually being replaced with new cultivars with a range of harvest times from mid- March through until June. The orchard is expected to produce about 20 tonnes of feijoas this year, but estimated volume is expected to triple in four years when the new trees mature. About half of the feijoas are exported.
Southern Belle grows a range of capsicum varieties, including trial crops, which are planted in August and harvested from early November to early July. Most are sold on the local market. A small quantity of cucumbers and chillies is also grown in the greenhouses.
Along with the family, Southern Belle has four staff working almost all year in the greenhouses. Up to 20 more people are employed for feijoa picking and pruning from March until July.
Talbert and Emily have been working full-time in the business since 2013 when Frans and Tineke set in motion a 10- year succession plan.
Frans, who has a background in analytical chemistry and process technology, has devised a greenhouse heating system which reduces energy usage by 40 per cent and a unique closed circuit irrigation method which ensures no nutrients are being lost.
The judges said Southern Belle Orchard was an excellent example of what could be achieved when clear objectives and goals were established for a farming business.
‘‘All decisions are backed up with thorough analysis, research and science. The amount of innovation and efficiency is amazing.’’
Frans’ inventive and experimental approach to soil fertility, nutrient and water management is an integral part of the business, enabling systems to be ‘‘continually refined to produce excellent crop health and yield’’, the judges said.
Careful and vigilant management and the use of some biological controls have significantly reduced the amount of spraying needed.
The judges also noted the ‘‘impressive analysis of production and forecasts, which prompts management to avert risk and drive efficiencies and productivity’’.
A field day will be held on Southern Belle Orchard on May 21, 2015.
The full list of winners for the 2015 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards are:
Supreme award, Harvest Award, Innovation Award, Integrated Management Award and Soil Management Award: Frans and Tineke de Jong, Talbert de Jong and Emily Meese, Southern Belle Orchard, Matamata.
Dairy Farm Award, Water Protection Award: John Hayward and Susan O’Regan, Judge Valley Dairies Ltd, Te Awamutu.
Farm Stewardship Award: Anita and Hans Nelis, Tirau.
Land and Life Award, Catchment Improvement Award: Peter and Judi Buckley and Stuart and Lichelle Morgan, Loch Carron, Te Kauwhata.