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.
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