Grow­ers’ new pres­i­dent looks ahead to chal­lenges

It’s an hon­our to be elected, says the new pres­i­dent of the Pukekohe Veg­etable Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (PVGA), Pravin Hari.

NZ Grower - - News - By Glenys Chris­tian

“This is es­pe­cially so when we’re cel­e­brat­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion’s cen­te­nary,” he said.

He’s firmly of the view that work­ing as a veg­etable grower is not a fall back ca­reer choice.

“We try to do a lot of ca­reers ex­pos to show there’s more to the in­dus­try than meets the eye,” he said.

“A lot of young peo­ple are un­aware of the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able. But we want to show there is a fu­ture for grow­ing with it be­com­ing more tech­no­log­i­cal and mech­a­nised.

“And there’s plenty of chances for over­seas travel and meet­ing grow­ers in other coun­tries which is another thing for young peo­ple to fo­cus on.”

While op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of grow­ing in the area he names labour short­ages along with health and safety con­cerns as two big is­sues that Pukekohe grow­ers face at present.

“There are labour prob­lems right across all grow­ers,” he said.

“We’re not sure why – it’s a tough one. Ev­ery­one is battling on but it’s get­ting harder and harder.”

When it comes to health and safety he said it’s a big con­cern to all grow­ers. They treat their staff like fam­ily and they don’t want to see them hurt. They want to see them re­turn home safe at the end of each day.”

While there can be com­pli­ance is­sues he be­lieves the an­swer is closer li­ai­son be­tween grower groups and Work­Safe. “We’ve got to find prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions,” he said.

Other ar­eas of con­cern are wa­ter is­sues and the pro­posed Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil PC 1 changes, where Pravin hopes as a re­sult of PVGA sub­mis­sions re­quire­ments on grow­ers will be made more work­able.

“En­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues will need some fu­ture fo­cus.”

The 35-year-old has been in­volved in the fam­ily business for around the last 18 years. R C Hari and sons was set up by his grand­fa­ther, Ravji close to 100 years ago. His five sons all worked in the business with three re­tir­ing five years ago, leav­ing Gan­pat (Patch) and Bha­van (Jimmy) at the helm. That meant it was time for two grand­sons to be­come di­rec­tors; Ki­ran who is Patch’s son and a for­mer

or­gan­iser of the Young Grower of the Year Com­pe­ti­tion, and Pravin, who is Jimmy’s son.

Pravin com­pleted a me­chanic’s ap­pren­tice for two years af­ter he left school and be­fore he joined the business.

“It gave me a bit of back­ground,” he said.

And while he’s al­ways been an all-rounder when it comes to his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the business he has tended to fo­cus on main­te­nance of ma­chin­ery, the work­shop and spray­ing agri­chem­i­cals.

“We’re much more heav­ily mech­a­nised now than we were when I started,” he said.

“There’s a lot more trac­tors and plant­ing ma­chin­ery and it’s def­i­nitely a lot more com­plex and in­volved than it used to be. But we’re al­ways learn­ing and have adapted fairly well.”

The Haris crop around 200 hectares of land, which has grown from 150ha in last 20 years. Around half is owned and half leased with some as far south as Onewhero and north as Karaka to min­imise risks to their crops.

“The weather makes things a bit dif­fi­cult.”

The com­pany used to be heav­ily in­volved in the ex­port trade, send­ing onions to Europe and squash to Ja­pan. But it stopped grow­ing squash some years ago, now grow­ing pump­kins for the lo­cal mar­ket.

“It was such a volatile mar­ket and we didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen,” he said.

Red and brown onions are still grown along with fresh greens such as let­tuces, cab­bage, cau­li­flower, broc­coli and Shang­hai bok choy, all for the lo­cal mar­ket.

“We’re heav­ily aligned with Count­down so we can de­liver what they hope and ex­pect from us,” he said.

The re­la­tion­ship is a long term one but up un­til 10 years ago they used a bro­ker be­fore switch­ing to deal di­rect with the su­per­mar­ket chain.

They don’t graze land as part of their ro­ta­tion in­stead grow­ing two crops of greens then onions. There are 30 staff em­ployed year-round in­clud­ing a full­time me­chanic.

Pravin came on to the PVGA com­mit­tee 11 years ago and has been in­volved in Veg­eta­bles NZ ad­vi­sory com­mit­tees for the last nine, first with al­li­ums then with roots and tu­bers.

He’s a big be­liever in the value of in­ter­gen­er­a­tional veg­etable busi­nesses.

“The cross­over from older to younger peo­ple is very im­por­tant for our busi­nesses go­ing for­ward,” he said.

The as­so­ci­a­tion is for­tu­nate in hav­ing 11 life mem­bers still alive, ac­tive in the PVGA and able to con­trib­ute their mem­o­ries of what veg­etable grow­ing was like in early days for cel­e­bra­tions of its cen­te­nary.

“Some­times it’s been tough to get in­for­ma­tion but we’ve talked to life mem­bers to see what they can dig up,” he said.

At the other end of spec­trum Pravin be­lieves it’s great to now have the lo­cal Young Grow­ers Group where they can get to­gether and in­ter­act.

“It’s also a good step­ping stone to come on to the PVGA com­mit­tee,” he said.

“And the young grow­ers com­pe­ti­tion is a great show­case of their tal­ent.”

Pravin would still like to see more young peo­ple in­volved in the in­dus­try, es­pe­cially women. This is al­ready hap­pen­ing nat­u­rally with Kylie Suther­land the new deputy chair elected at its re­cent an­nual meet­ing.

Pravin has been on the sub-com­mit­tee which has been hard at work for the last few months or­gan­is­ing the range of dif­fer­ent func­tions planned through­out its cen­te­nary year.

“One hun­dred years is quite an amaz­ing achieve­ment,” he said.

“Grower in­volve­ment is key so there can be a cel­e­bra­tion of what we’ve achieved which we can all take part in to­gether.”

In his spare time Pravin ad­mits to be­ing a gym junkie, get­ting in­volved in Cross-Fit over the last few years.

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