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.
“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.