Organics must pay its way
Te Puna grower, Braden Strahan produces kiwifruit both organically and conventionally.
His home block in Te Puna has three hectares organic of green kiwifruit, while 40 mins drive away in Te Puke, he works a 4.5ha block of gold with conventional practices.
Braden says his father, Howard, converted the Te Puna block 11 years ago.
For the last eight years Braden’s been the boss, following the initial three-year transition period to organic certification.
“Dad converted purely for organic reasons, but to be honest, I’m not quite so much of a greenie. I’m more motivated by financial reasons but I definitely like the idea of organics,” he admits.
For Braden, the financial bottom line has to stack up, and he’s keen to continue with organics as long as it pays its way. He says it’s great to be sustainable, but people need money to live and profit from their work.
Braden’s organic orchard is often visited by Zespri’s visiting international VIPs.
“Zespri’s overseas clients come here and see we live on the orchard, and that we have a young child. They’re really interested in that,” he explains.
“It’s powerful PR when they learn the fruit off this place is being exporting to them – from this orchard in which we live and have our own children running around.”
When asked where he would rather have his family – on the organic orchard or the conventional one – there’s no hesitation in the answer – the organic block.
Braden and his wife, Toni, have a young son, and enjoy knowing their little boy is living in a spray free environment. As a family, they can walk anywhere the orchard with a good feeling, knowing that it’s a safe place to be.
“With organics, you don’t have any concerns about the times of the year you’re spraying different chemicals. If we were living on the other orchard we’d have to be more careful. Here I take the young fella out on the orchard any time of year. We don’t have any concerns here at all.”
The harshest thing in an organic grower’s list is a copper spray.
Apart from the money, Braden loves being an organic grower – “I love it, it’s cool,” he smiles.
“Sure there’s a little more paper work and you have to put a plan together and have it approved before the season. Most conventional growers would have a formal plan to follow based on previous seasons and tweak it slightly. That’s what we do, it’s not any harder.”
Conventional or organic the costs are similar. There costs incurred with organic that you don’t have with conventional, and vice versa, I think they balance out about equal, he says.
Being organic has extra bonuses in that it nullifies any public pressure from local anti-spray groups. A nearby primary school’s action group, gets fired up at certain times of the season when the more toxic sprays are used. That’s not an issue for the organic block.
The orchard is audited every year. This process looks at the sprays and other products used, soil tests to prove such products are required, and checking records to show that owners and/or managers have kept within their limits.
RICH WITH REWARDS
His message to growers and managers considering turning green is that the financial rewards are certainly there to be had.
“If you’re doing a good job, the returns are really good. Most organic growers are operating well and proving that it can be done. It’s quite a sound and robust business decision. Our orchard is returning well, so we’re happy doing it,” he says.
It’s fair to say a number of growers don’t run their own orchards now. More and more managers are hired to run operations and they are the real decision makers. Getting those alongside these managers is an important part of organic sector’s future, he says.
PEST HALTS CONVERSION
The main reason Braden won’t convert the conventional block is because of one annoying pest.
Passion vine hopper lives in a nearby gully, which is proving a breeding ground for the bug. Hoppers are hard to control organically. Research is underway by Zespri, but not as fast both Braden and Jon would like.
“Most organic growers are operating well and proving that it can be done. It’s quite a sound and robust business decision. Our orchard is returning well, so we’re happy doing it.”