New pack­house re­flects in­creased in­vest­ment in cher­ries

Two or­chardists grow­ing fruit at op­po­site ends of the Cen­tral Otago hor­ti­cul­ture val­leys, are show­ing great faith in the cherry and ap­ple and pear sec­tors re­spec­tively, with large devel­op­ments un­der way.

The Orchardist - - Cherries - Story and photo by Dianne King

Pipfruit grower Con van der Voort and his fam­ily at Ettrick, and Cromwell cherry grower and or­chards man­ager Mal­colm Lit­tle put into prac­tice the of­ten quoted phrase, “talk­ing the talk and walk­ing the walk.”

Three years ago Mal­colm de­clared that cher­ries had a bet­ter fu­ture than grapes or dairy­ing and pro­ceeded to ex­pand fur­ther by plant­ing out un­vi­able vine­yards as well as new ground.

As a re­sult of his faith and com­mit­ment and with the back­ing of grower in­vestors, there is a new pack­house at Fel­ton Road Park in Ban­nock­burn, a short drive from Cromwell.

Un­der Mal­colm’s man­age­ment a to­tal of 59ha of cher­ries are in the ground, grown on in­ten­sive sys­tems, with a fur­ther 11ha un­der in­de­pen­dent man­age­ment and in­volved in a ‘Coop’ group mainly in the Cromwell basin and Queens­bury.

Mal­colm’s back­ground has been in land-based in­dus­tries through­out his ca­reer. He ob­tained an Agri­cul­tural Sci­ence de­gree from Massey Uni­ver­sity, spe­cial­is­ing in val­u­a­tion, has worked at the Ru­ral Bank in South­land, and as gen­eral man­ager agribusi­ness for SBS Bank in In­ver­cargill, while farm­ing sheep and beef and de­vel­op­ing a forestry block.

Four years ago he re­tired from Agribusi­ness Fi­nance to look af­ter other or­chards and Fel­ton Park, a 10ha or­chard which had ini­tially been pur­chased for his late par­ents.

Mal­colm’s ca­reer in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor through­out New Zealand had given him an in­sight into the grapes, dairy­ing and cherry in­dus­tries es­pe­cially in the south­ern re­gions of the South Is­land.

Dur­ing his time at SBS Bank he had been in­volved in fund­ing de­vel­op­ment of var­i­ous en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing vine­yards and

dairy­ing, and he came to con­sider cher­ries as hav­ing greater prospects due to the lim­ited suit­able grow­ing ar­eas in the south­ern hemi­sphere, plus the high de­mand from the north­ern hemi­sphere out of sea­son. The fact that cher­ries can­not be stored for long pe­ri­ods also make them an ap­peal­ing prod­uct to mar­ket.

Mal­colm says the at­trac­tion of cher­ries is their high re­turn on cap­i­tal, which has en­cour­aged a num­ber of clients, friends and col­leagues to in­vest in cher­ries.

“Even in a bad year for cher­ries, re­turns are over 15% on cap­i­tal in­vest­ment. Com­pare this with less than 10% re­turn on cap­i­tal for dairy­ing – in a high milk solid pay­out year – and even less for con­tract grape grow­ing.”

He be­lieved that in the fu­ture there would be a world­wide de­mand for fresh New Zealand pro­duce and wanted to see all hor­ti­cul­ture-ca­pa­ble land be­ing put to its best use.

“In Cen­tral Otago I see this as cher­ries, not dairy­ing or dairy sup­port.”

In 2017, when asked if he still had the same faith in cherry grow­ing, his re­ply is “for sure”.

Since 2014 Park­burn Man­age­ment and Pure Pac have been formed by six or­chard own­ers with eight or­chards, and all up 70ha are in cher­ries. The group has com­bined to­gether with their own brands to ex­port their pro­duce glob­ally.

“We aimed to get closer to the Asian palate. At the end of the day our grower share­hold­ers need to get closer to the con­sumer and cap­ture the full value from their prod­uct.”

“A lot of peo­ple are grow­ing fruit to send to an­other pack­house with ex­porters sell­ing their prod­uct.”

“We’re say­ing that this model we’ve put to­gether – with our own pack­ing, brand­ing and ex­port­ing – takes us closer to achiev­ing our stated aim.We call it a ‘com­pany Co-op’ model.”

“I think grow­ers who band to­gether and in­vest in pack­ing, brand­ing and ex­port­ing are go­ing to cap­ture at least an ad­di­tional $50,000 per hectare that tra­di­tion­ally has been go­ing to the con­tract pack­houses and ex­porters.”

The Ban­nock­burn pack­house will be ready for the com­ing sea­son and Mal­colm be­lieves there will be more op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fu­ture for an­other pack­house, with the same Co-op com­pany struc­ture, in the Mt Pisa area.

Ap­ples also are prov­ing a prof­itable ven­ture for those who have stuck with the pipfruit-in­dus­try in Cen­tral Otago.

Ear­lier this year chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Pipfruit NZ, now NZ Ap­ples & Pears, Alan Pol­lard, said that nationwide the pipfruit crop was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing phe­nom­e­nal growth, and Cen­tral Otago pro­duced about 4% of the crop that last year was worth about $720 mil­lion.

The 2016–17 har­vest has been es­ti­mated at about 584,000 tonnes, which could ex­ceed a pre­vi­ous record of 560,000 tonnes.

As a pipfruit grower, Ettrick or­chardist Con van der Voort and his fam­ily, are also build­ing on their faith in hor­ti­cul­ture in Cen­tral Otago.

In 2016, fol­low­ing the pur­chase of 104ha of Earn­scle­ugh Sta­tion land near Alexan­dra, they planted 27,000 ap­ple trees on the for­mer pas­tures.

“This year we’ve planted about the same again,” Con said.

The van der Voort fam­ily have the same faith in the in­dus­try as Mal­colm Lit­tle’s fam­ily, though they have not built an­other pack­house but are strip­ping out and re­mod­elling their ex­ist­ing com­plex, which re­placed the orig­i­nal pack­house, burned down in 2001. Just days be­fore the start of the pack­ing sea­son.

The first stage of the to­tal rede­vel­op­ment of the in­te­rior is un­der­way, with the sec­ond stage to be com­pleted in time for the 2019 har­vest.

This will in­clude a 14-lane grader with the ca­pa­bil­ity of han­dling the ever in­creas­ing vol­umes of ap­ples from their or­chards at Ettrick, Dum­bar­ton, Roxburgh East and Earn­scle­ugh.

In the past sea­son about 600,000 car­tons were packed, Con says.

In­fra­struc­ture for staff to prune, thin, pick and pack Cen­tral Otago’s hor­ti­cul­ture prod­ucts needs to be in place, as well as to sup­port the in­flux of sea­sonal work­ers.

At Cromwell a planned 900-bed ac­com­mo­da­tion com­plex for sea­sonal work­ers, and oth­ers seek­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, has been com­pletely re­designed. The de­vel­op­ment com­pany, AC/JV Holdings, has gained re­source con­sent and has lodged build­ing con­sent, with work sched­uled to be­gin by the end of 2017.

A snow-capped St Bathan’s Range and Lake Dun­stan at Bendigo back­ground a 5ha block of cher­ries, where tak­ing time out in their lunch-hour are from left, Waka Paul, Sam Struthers, Jono Thayer, with James Huf­fa­dine and James’ dog An­gus.

Con van der Voort

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