Worst growth in 36 years

The Horowhenua Mail - - FRONT PAGE - JILL GAL­LOWAY AND GER­ARD HUTCHING

This sea­son has been the hard­est year for grow­ing and har­vest­ing as­para­gus in Ge­off Lewis’ 36 years in the in­dus­try.

The Horowhenua grower said the con­stant rain had put har­vest­ing and pack­ing be­hind where it would usu­ally be.

‘‘The wa­ter ta­ble is full and it only takes a small amount of rain to cause wa­ter to sit on top of the ground. Some parts of the as­para­gus fields are to­tally un­der wa­ter.

‘‘The im­pact of this sat­u­ra­tion on the health of the plants is un­known at this stage. The greatest con­cern, is the amount of phy­topthera, a fun­gal dis­ease caused by soil sat­u­ra­tion. This dis­ease causes the plants to rot un­der the ground.’’

Lewis and his fam­ily own the Ten­der­tips as­para­gus farms and pack­house, sit­u­ated be­tween Fox­ton and Levin in Horowhenua.

Ten­der­tips had farms for sup­ply at var­i­ous blocks around the re­gion and the ge­o­graph­i­cal spread of crops and soil types pro­vided some pro­tec­tion against iso­lated cli­matic events.

But it had not stopped the im­pact of the wide­spread rain, which had fallen through­out the North Is­land.

Lewis said spring had come late for the as­para­gus crop and the del­i­cacy wasn’t as wide­spread in mar­kets as a re­sult.

He said shops and su­per­mar­kets which Ten­der­tips sup­plied were ‘‘on ra­tions’’, as as­para­gus stocks were lower than or­ders.

‘‘They would like to do pro­mo­tions, but un­til vol­umes in­crease I know we’ll run out.’’

Ten­der­tips’ fresh ex­port pro­gramme to Ja­pan was not af­fected at this stage as ex­ports nor­mally started in late October

Ten­der­tips has been un­able to em­ploy the sea­sonal work­ers it nor­mally has in its teams be­cause of the wet.

‘‘We are run­ning at about half the staff we would nor­mally have at this stage of the har­vest,’’ Lewis said.

‘‘The busi­ness builds up to a to­tal work­force of 150 work­ers. The wet was par­tic­u­larly hard on the har­vest teams as they of­ten had to har­vest in the rain.’’

Lewis said his 26 Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ploy­ees had ar­rived from Samoa, and were do­ing lim­ited work. Most staff em­ployed for pick­ing and pack­ing as­para­gus were New Zealan­ders.

At the as­para­gus pack­house the spears are washed, trimmed and graded.

Then they are stored in chillers at two de­grees Cel­sius, be­fore be­ing trans­ported for sale.

He said the wet weather had hit all veg­eta­bles in Horowhenua, with many grow­ers un­able to get on wet soil to man­age and har­vest their crops.

Damp pad­docks are so bad that in some ar­eas veg­eta­bles were rot­ting in the ground.

As a re­sult, most veg­eta­bles were more ex­pen­sive this sea­son, than last.

Manawatu¯ potato grower Terry Olsen said dig­ging in wet con­di­tions was hard on peo­ple, ma­chines and the soil which could com­pact un­der ve­hi­cles.

He said fine weather had dried out some pad­docks, but there had been lit­tle wind and rain lately had made pad­docks wet again.

Horticulture New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Mike Chap­man said con­sumers needed to un­der­stand that lower than nor­mal sup­plies im­pacted on avail­abil­ity and cost.

‘‘We find that when peo­ple get to the shops and see higher than ex­pected prices for veg­eta­bles, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily un­der­stand why that is.

‘‘Our grow­ers use very so­phis­ti­cated farm­ing tech­niques to man­age as many en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors as they can, but some­thing like hail at the wrong time or rain­fall of a me­tre more than pre­vi­ous years can­not al­ways be mit­i­gated.’’

PHOTO: DAVID UN­WIN/STUFF

Ten­der­tips owner Ge­off Lewis says the rain has put the del­i­cacy in short sup­ply.

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