Alan and de­len Thomp­son show­case their Kerik­eri prop­erty which won the re­gion’s Bal­lance Farm En­vi­ron­ment Award

Alan and He­len Thomp­son have come a long way since growing their first 200 car­tons of ex­port mel­ons in the 1980s.

The Orchardist - - Contents - Photo Wendy Lau­ren­son

The di­ver­sity of the Thomp­sons’ in­volve­ment in hor­ti­cul­ture in North­land was show­cased at the re­cent Bal­lance Farm En­vi­ron­ment Awards field day in Kerik­eri to ac­knowl­edge their re­gional award win. Alan and He­len and their fam­ily are now in­volved with ki­wifruit and lemon pro­duc­tion, a pack­house and cool­store, an ex­port com­pany, and more re­cently on their home prop­erty, wine and craft beer pro­duc­tion, a com­mu­nity con­cert venue, and a wet­land board­walk to a wa­ter­fall on their prop­erty.

“Hor­ti­cul­ture is a chang­ing in­dus­try,” He­len says, “so we’ve adapted to the chal­lenges and changes and have been lucky in re­spond­ing in ways that have led us to here. Ini­tially we fo­cussed on pro­duc­tion and in­come but with the next gen­er­a­tion in­flu­enc­ing us now, we’ve broad­ened out to in­clude en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties. It makes life even busier but also more in­ter­est­ing.”

The field day vis­i­tors heard an over­view of the Thomp­son fam­ily’s op­er­a­tions then toured the pack­house and cool­store, vis­ited a block of net­ted SunGold ki­wifruit, looked at the vine­yard on the

Thomp­sons’ home block, and wan­dered down the board­walk to the wet­land and wa­ter­fall area – topped with a bar­be­cue lunch and a wine tast­ing of­fer.

Bal­lance Farm En­vi­ron­ment Awards judges con­sider the over­all en­vi­ron­ment of a prop­erty but, in par­tic­u­lar, they as­sess sus­tain­able prof­itabil­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness, good busi­ness prac­tices, and so­cial and com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity. As well as be­ing the 2017 North­land Supreme Win­ners, the Thomp­sons won the Hill Lab­o­ra­to­ries Har­vest Award (which recog­nises ex­cel­lence in pro­duc­tive and re­silient pas­ture and crop growing sys­tems), and the CB Nor­wood Dis­trib­u­tors Ltd Agri-Busi­ness Man­age­ment Award (for man­ag­ing and op­er­at­ing a suc­cess­ful farm busi­ness).

The fact that Alan and He­len Thomp­son’s busi­ness is mul­ti­fac­eted is a big part of their se­lec­tion as re­gional award win­ners.

FROM THE GROUND UP

The Thomp­sons’ en­trepreneur­ship started with pro­duc­tion. Alan and He­len’s orig­i­nal melon and squash growing years led them into growing ki­wifruit and lemons be­cause they needed fresh melon growing ground ev­ery two to three years.

Alan ex­plains that on a trip to Ja­pan one year, “a cus­tomer sug­gested we look into lemon pro­duc­tion for ex­port to Ja­pan be­cause at that time the United States was the only coun­try do­ing so. We came home, scoured the coun­try for a suit­able va­ri­ety, and with help of our nurs­ery­man, came across the Yen Ben. To es­tab­lish as many Yen Ben plant­ings as pos­si­ble, we or­gan­ised a public un­listed com­pany, Ker­ifresh. In 2008, Ker­ifresh was sold to Turn­ers and Grow­ers and then we started LD In­vest­ments, now trad­ing as Kainui Part­ner­ship, in part­ner­ship with He­len’s brother and sis­ter-in-law. Kainui Part­ner­ship now grows 20ha of ki­wifruit – 14ha in gold and

Ini­tially we fo­cussed on pro­duc­tion and in­come but with the next gen­er­a­tion in­flu­enc­ing us now, we’ve broad­ened out to in­clude en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties. It makes life even busier but also more in­ter­est­ing.”

the rest in green – spread across five or­chards, plus 2ha of Yen Ben lemons.”

“Kainui started with two or­chards in 2008. In 2010 when Psa hit Kerik­eri we de­cided to change from 16A to SunGold over a five to six year pe­riod. Be­cause Psa hit here later than Bay of Plenty, we had the ben­e­fit of build­ing on what grow­ers there had learnt, so we were able to man­age our con­ver­sion with­out los­ing to­tal pro­duc­tion. We used a com­bi­na­tion of notch graft­ing and stump graft­ing in al­ter­nate rows which en­abled us to keep the 16A canopy un­til the SunGold stump grafts ma­tured. Our cur­rent gold ki­wifruit pro­duc­tion is the bot­tom of the changeover cy­cle with most vines in their first or sec­ond pro­duc­tion year. We’re av­er­ag­ing 8,000 trays per hectare with SunGold this year and got nearly all of that into Ki­wis­tart. Fu­ture long-term pro­duc­tion will be more like 15,000 trays per hectare.”

One of the changeover man­age­ment de­ci­sions was to net some of the ex­posed SunGold blocks. “We’ve gone for hail net­ting and it has sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced the wind and there­fore the Psa risk.This year was the first SunGold crop off this block and we got just 5% re­ject rate com­pared with 10–15% re­ject rate on most blocks in the first crop year. The leaf con­di­tion in gen­eral is also much bet­ter.”

Alan ex­plained that there have been some is­sues with net­ting. “Bee pol­li­na­tion is an is­sue if the ends are net­ted in too, so we’ve gone just for net­ting the top. And the net­ting gives about 12% less ul­tra­vi­o­let light which can some­times af­fect dry mat­ter lev­els, but we still picked most of this crop in the first week of Ki­wiS­tart.The net­ting costs $50,000 a hectare to in­stall but with the value of the crop un­der it, it doesn’t take long to re­coup.”

“We’ve gone for hail net­ting and it has sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced the wind and there­fore the Psa risk.”

Wa­ter man­age­ment was another fac­tor Alan em­pha­sised at the field day. “All our ir­ri­ga­tion is from the Kerik­eri Ir­ri­ga­tion Scheme – one of the most un­der­rated as­sets this town has. It was in­sti­gated in the 1980s be­cause of the sever­ity of wa­ter is­sues here and has re­sulted in ac­cess to some of the cheap­est and most re­li­able ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter in the world. We have drip­pers on each plant and ten­sio-me­ters on all our or­chards to ac­cess wa­ter needs and man­age plant stress lev­els.”

Fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tion is guided by FruitFed soil test­ing each year. “We dis­cuss the ex­pected yields then the fer­tiliser pro­gramme is based on that. For Psa pre­ven­tion, we also ap­ply in­ten­sive fo­liar sprays of both cop­per and Acti­gards to stim­u­late the plants’ pro­tec­tion sys­tems. Ki­wifruit don’t like cop­per so we use sea­weed to counter those ef­fects.”

POST-HAR­VEST

Fruit from their five or­chards is packed at Kainui Pack & Cool, a leased post-har­vest fa­cil­ity owned and man­aged by the Thomp­sons. “This is the base of our or­chard man­age­ment for cit­rus and ki­wifruit pack­ing,” He­len says. “We meet the BRC (Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium), GAP (Good Agri­cul­tural Prac­tice), MPI (Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries) and Ze­spri com­pli­ance stan­dards and we have ex­cel­lent peo­ple in our pack­house, ad­min­is­tra­tion and or­chard teams. We em­ploy as many lo­cals as pos­si­ble and have a close work­ing re­la­tion­ship with WINZ (Work & In­come New Zealand). We are also a cer­ti­fied RSE (Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer) scheme em­ployer with a team of 12 from Van­u­atu on the or­chards spread over two six-month shifts.”

Alan points to in­dus­try in­fra­struc­ture be­ing a ma­jor is­sue in the north in up­com­ing years, es­pe­cially in cool stor­age ca­pac­ity. “North­land pro­duced over three mil­lion trays of ki­wifruit last year and should in­crease to five to six mil­lion in the next three to four years. It will be a re­gional is­sue. We’re al­ready pushed for space in our leased fa­cil­i­ties so it’s some­thing we will be look­ing at in the near fu­ture.”

Kainui Pack & Cool sells do­mes­ti­cally through MG Mar­ket­ing and ex­ports through Te Mata Ex­ports Ltd. All ex­port ki­wifruit is sold through Ze­spri. In 2012 MG Mar­ket­ing be­came a 50% share­holder in Te Mata Ex­ports. LD Fam­ily In­vest­ments Ltd is a share­holder in Te Mata Ex­ports Ltd and Alan is a direc­tor of Te Mata Ex­ports Ltd and a direc­tor of MG Mar­ket­ing. “Alan’s strengths are the plan­ning and en­tre­pre­neur­ial side of the busi­ness,” He­len says,“while mine lie more with ad­min­is­tra­tion, and now the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pect of our Kainui Road home prop­erty.”

RE­TIRE­MENT THINK­ING LED TO MORE DI­VER­SITY

Alan and He­len’s di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion into wine pro­duc­tion was in­tended as a re­tire­ment project on their home prop­erty, the fi­nal site visit of the field day. “We have two hectares of grape canopy, and as well as growing what does well in the north, we are ex­per­i­ment­ing with growing what we like to drink”, Alan says, “so some va­ri­eties do well and some not so well. We have sev­eral va­ri­eties of white and red and the vine­yard is an ac­cred­ited mem­ber of Sus­tain­able Wine­grow­ing New Zealand (SWNZ).”

“We now open the cel­lar door each sum­mer,” He­len adds. In con­junc­tion with that, our chil­dren were keen to host mu­si­cal events for the lo­cal com­mu­nity and the North­land re­gion, and then our son-in-law wanted to add craft beer to the mix. So we got the nec­es­sary Re­source Con­sents and started host­ing events on a small stage. We were then ap­proached to do a UB40 con­cert. For this we built a big­ger stage and made use of a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre here, and the con­cert at­tracted 5,000 peo­ple! We fol­lowed it up with a con­cert to cel­e­brate the leg­endary Bob Mar­ley and that drew over 2,000 peo­ple. The big con­certs were a huge suc­cess and we’ll now add more lo­cal com­mu­nity events into the mix.”

De­vel­op­ing the bush, wet­land and wa­ter­fall area of the home prop­erty was also the ini­tia­tive of Alan and He­len’s off­spring and this now of­fers another di­men­sion for vis­i­tors to the vine­yard and con­certs, as well as for ed­u­ca­tional groups. “Plant­ing and fur­ther en­hanc­ing our nat­u­ral as­set here is an on­go­ing long-term project and I’m now pas­sion­ate about this part of the prop­erty.”

WHAT NEXT…

As well as con­tin­ued re­ju­ve­na­tion of the bush and wet­land area, Alan and He­len have ki­wifruit and cit­rus ex­pan­sion on their fu­ture hori­zon. “We’re in­ter­ested in the up­com­ing new green and red Ze­spri ki­wifruit va­ri­eties – es­pe­cially be­cause they seem very flo­ral here in the north, pos­si­bly with­out the need for HiCane. We’ll also be de­vel­op­ing more Yen Ben lemon blocks in the next three years”, Alan pre­dicts. At Kainui Road, we’re go­ing through the reg­u­la­tory process of ap­ply­ing for an on-li­cence, we’ll be do­ing more di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, and the whole fam­ily is in­volved in suc­ces­sion plan­ning for the over­all busi­ness.”

So much for re­tire­ment.

Board­walk plat­form in wet­land look­ing back to vine­yard. Field day vis­i­tors at net cov­ered SunGold ki­wifruit block at Kainui. Board­walk through wet­land to the wa­ter­fall.

He­len with Shayne O'Shea, Chair­man of North­land Bal­lance Farm En­vi­ron­ment Awards in front of wet­land and vine­yard at Kainui.

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