Ta­mar­illo in­dus­try hon­ours grower

The Orchardist - - Recognition - By Wendy Lau­ren­son

Craig was this year’s re­cip­i­ent of the Lau­ren­son Me­mo­rial Award for ser­vices to the ta­mar­illo in­dus­try, and the sculp­ture was re­ceived on his be­half by com­mit­tee mem­ber Ray Pater­son at a com­mit­tee gath­er­ing in Whangarei in Novem­ber.

“Craig was a huge part of keep­ing the ta­mar­illo in­dus­try go­ing when the Tomato Po­tato Psyl­lid – and sub­se­quently Liberib­ac­ter – struck in 2009,” Ray said. “He was chair­man of the Ta­mar­illo Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion at that time and man­aged to hold the grow­ers to­gether and give us di­rec­tion in those dif­fi­cult days. Part of that in­put was get­ting a re­search pro­gramme to­gether that was spe­cific to psyl­lid im­pact on tamar­il­los.

“Both Craig and his wife Robyn were in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous with their time and as­sis­tance in the in­dus­try from 2005 un­til 2015 when Craig re­luc­tantly stepped down from in­dus­try in­volve­ment due to health is­sues. He is a real gen­tle­man with a beau­ti­ful pres­ence. He lis­tens at­ten­tively and chats qui­etly – and he is a very wor­thy re­cip­i­ent of this award.”

Craig and Robyn Wat­son grow 9,000 red ta­mar­illo plants on their fam­ily or­chard prop­erty at Maun­gat­a­pere, near Whangarei. “We started grow­ing tamar­il­los here in 1997,” Craig re­calls, “and have had up to 15,000 plants at times – mostly red but we have grown am­ber in the past too. We also grow 2.1ha of G3 ki­wifruit and 2ha of Hass av­o­ca­dos.”

“We first found Tomato Po­tato Psyl­lid (TPP) on our tamar­il­los in 2009 and the first di­ag­no­sis of sub­se­quent Liberib­ac­ter in tamar­il­los in New Zealand was made at our place the same year.We lost 80% of our trees and did a to­tal re­plant of 15,000 trees over two sea­sons.

“Our ta­mar­illo crop man­age­ment has changed dra­mat­i­cally as a re­sult of TPP. We do on­go­ing in­ter-plant­ing so there are is­sues in­volved in hav­ing mixed-age trees within one block.We grow on 1,500 to 2,000 seedlings ev­ery year for re­place­ments, and we do a lighter prun­ing to al­low for heav­ier crops in the early crop­ping years. Man­age­ment to lengthen the crop­ping life of the tree is no longer an op­tion as Liberib­ac­ter in­fec­tion is on­go­ing, so we do an ag­gres­sive re­place­ment of blocks af­ter four to five crops.”

Craig with­drew from in­dus­try po­si­tions and other com­mu­nity groups in 2015 due to health is­sues but con­tin­ues to grow and sell tamar­il­los. “We sell our tamar­il­los lo­cally via the New Zealand Ta­mar­illo Grower Co-op and Fresh Di­rect, and ex­port through Fresh Pro­duce Group to the United States. There are lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties for pre­mium fruit, but we sup­ply 100 to 150 trays a week to or­der be­tween April and Au­gust. We also sup­ply pro­cess­ing fruit to Tamco for on-sale and for man­u­fac­ture into Tamco brand ‘For the Love of Tams’.”

“I’m very happy and grate­ful to be still grow­ing – with a sup­port­ive fam­ily and ex­cel­lent staff.”

“We’re hon­our­ing the past while mov­ing in fresh di­rec­tions,” says Brian We­ston, Taranaki ta­mar­illo grower re­cently elected as chair of the Ta­mar­illo Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. “I stepped in as a stop-gap mea­sure un­til we can pass the ba­ton on to the next gen­er­a­tion of grow­ers. We have re­set our fo­cus to be­ing in­no­va­tive and pro­gres­sive, mem­ber driven and fu­ture ori­ented. While is­sues with the psyl­lid have not yet been fully re­solved, we’re mov­ing ahead with a dif­fer­ent em­pha­sis now. Tamar­il­los are a great tast­ing colour­ful prod­uct with proven health ben­e­fits, and sup­ply is nat­u­rally re­stricted to cer­tain cli­matic and soil zones. The in­dus­try is small and spe­cial­ist – and that’s our mar­ket ad­van­tage.”

“Those grow­ers who have re­mained in the in­dus­try since TPP are start­ing to show their first prof­its in seven years and

we now have the Ta­mar­ixia wasp psyl­lid preda­tor on our radar. We’re also fund­ing our own re­search into the use of sil­i­con as a nat­u­ral psyl­lid de­ter­rent, and have be­come aware of some re­cent re­search in Malaysia on ad­di­tional nu­tri­tional and health at­tributes of tamar­il­los that we are keen to fur­ther in­ves­ti­gate.”

Ray Pater­son is the as­so­ci­a­tion com­mit­tee mem­ber re­spon­si­ble for re­search. “Sev­eral of us are grow­ing tamar­il­los on the Aupouri penin­sula in the far north, and a cu­rios­ity of the re­gion is the pres­ence of sil­ica in the soils on some sites and not on oth­ers. Tamar­il­los grow­ing in soil with high sil­ica con­tent seem more nat­u­rally re­sis­tant to the psyl­lid. This is preva­lent enough to war­rant fur­ther re­search and we are putting our own in­dus­try fund­ing to­wards this.”

Ray also points to the pos­si­bil­ity of fur­ther re­search on gold and am­ber tamar­il­los. “Grow­ers that are trou­bled with the ta­mar­illo mo­saic virus find that the gold doesn't ex­press it, and am­ber tamar­il­los have a sweeter taste that suits some con­sumers. The mar­ket per­cep­tion of tamar­il­los is that they are red, but in­no­va­tion in how we mar­ket tamar­il­los could change that per­cep­tion. We can add gold and/or am­ber tamar­il­los to the mix in the same way that the ki­wifruit in­dus­try added gold to the green ki­wifruit per­cep­tion – but ob­vi­ously for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.”

Ray re­cently came across some re­search from Malaysia on some new health and nutri­tion ben­e­fits of tamar­il­los. Ray ex­plains that while this re­search is in its in­fancy, “the pos­si­bil­i­ties look ex­cit­ing and war­rant fur­ther work, so we are fol­low­ing this up to see if we can be in­volved and have so far do­nated a small sam­ple of fruit for fur­ther re­search.”

The big­gest chal­lenge that the new Ta­mar­illo Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion com­mit­tee faces is the gap be­tween gen­er­a­tions. Eric Wa­gener, a far north ta­mar­illo grower, says the sub­stan­tial vol­un­tary in­put of time and knowl­edge from the cur­rent aging gen­er­a­tion of grow­ers is rare in the next gen­er­a­tion. “Peo­ple’s time com­mit­ments, ex­pec­ta­tions and at­ti­tudes have changed now and vol­un­tary in­put in any in­dus­try is harder to find. Peo­ple are be­com­ing more in­su­lar and los­ing sight of the greater vi­sion. The value of the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence of what has been built up may not be re­alised un­til it is gone – and we can’t wait for that to hap­pen. We have to be proac­tive and find new en­tre­pre­neur­ial and grower mod­els that work in the cur­rent so­cial and work cir­cum­stances.

“We are ask­ing ‘How can we do this’ and ‘what will work now’? These ques­tions help keep us so­lu­tion based and fu­ture fo­cussed as we ap­proach the next era of ta­mar­illo grow­ing,” says Brian We­ston. “We have en­thu­si­as­tic, in­formed and ca­pa­ble grow­ers to sup­ply a high qual­ity prod­uct to our mar­kets. We face dif­fi­cul­ties with grow­ing, so con­tin­u­ally seek to lift our game through bet­ter in­te­gra­tion with sci­ence, through fo­cussing on im­prov­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of our busi­nesses, and through ef­fec­tive shar­ing of best prac­tice.”

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One day in the fore­see­able fu­ture, their beloved trees and vines will be swept aside and the earth be­neath re­con­toured into a plat­form for de­signer sub­ur­bia.

That day has not yet come, so the cou­ple and their three daugh­ters keep calm and carry on.

This has been Monte’s home for 48 years, since he was six months old. He’s a third gen­er­a­tion or­chardist. His grand­fa­ther, also named as Monte, was a grower at Spring Creek, Marl­bor­ough, with a hold­ing of mostly ap­ples and plums – def­i­nitely no cit­rus.

“That was a new thing for my dad when he came up north. He was an elec­tri­cian by trade, and he moved around a bit, lived in Aus­tralia for a few years but set­tled in Auck­land,” Monte re­calls.

“He had a milk bar in Mis­sion Bay, run­ning it as a cash turnover busi­ness – that’s where he met my mum, an Aus­tralian. Once they had me and my brother, they de­cided to move to Hua­pai in 1969.”

“Billing­ton is still an ex­tremely pop­u­lar plum, es­pe­cially at “At Bluff, Dad did a deal with a fish­er­man – we ended up the farm­ers’ mar­kets be­cause it’s an old-fash­ioned, ‘first with so many oys­ters it was un­be­liev­able – these guys never cab off the rank’ plum. They’re an easy tree to grow in saw grape­fruit. Dad traded boxes of grape­fruit for dozens of Auck­land,” he says. oys­ters. He then took a box to the lo­cal fish and chip shop

and re­turned with a feed of bat­tered oys­ters and chips, and “Then we have the later va­ri­eties of Ge­orge Wil­son, now

I think a cray­fish along the way in Kaik­oura as well. What a called Omega, Black Doris, Red Doris, Louisa, older ones

mem­ory.” such as Honey Glow, Santa Rosa, and Black Am­ber.”

Last year was the worst har­vest in 20 years for his plums BREAKAWAY POL­I­TICS due mainly to hail and a poor set, how­ever this sea­son’s Monte’s fa­ther, Brian, is now in a rest home af­ter suf­fer­ing a crop is look­ing good. stroke. Nev­er­the­less, in his prime Brian was heav­ily in­volved

in fruit­grow­ing pol­i­tics – and not at all averse to be­ing a Be­ing lo­cated close to wine­mak­ers, the or­chard grows

mav­er­ick. chardon­nay grapes. The grapes are in a win-win sce­nario. For 12 years, Monte has en­joyed a hand­shake deal with a He helped form an in­de­pen­dent fruit­grow­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion of nearby win­ery. Auck­land and tried to break away from the New Zealand

Ap­ple and Pear Board. “They put bird netting on and I grow the grapes to a week be­fore har­vest, right up to the stage of pick­ing. He ap­peared be­fore a par­lia­men­tary se­lect com­mit­tee

re­gard­ing such a plan. He wanted the Auck­land grow­ers to The grapes are hand­picked by the win­ery’s staff, which is

com­bine their re­sources and to have the Auck­land mar­ket good for us be­cause nor­mally in March we’re start­ing to

for pipfruit. In the days of the reg­u­lated in­dus­try, Brian could pick our largest va­ri­ety, Royal Gala. It all dove­tails in nicely.”

see a vi­sion of what the fu­ture held – and it wasn’t go­ing to The or­chard employs two per­ma­nent peo­ple dur­ing the be pretty for Auck­land pipfruit grow­ers. year, and sea­sonal work­ers as re­quired. Hen­der­son is now

“Be­cause he was brought up in Marl­bor­ough, my dad could part of Auck­land’s sprawl, lo­cated only 20 min­utes away, and

see that ad­vances in trans­port were go­ing to af­fect the has a large pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple who like sea­sonal work. La mar­kets,” Monte ex­plains. Ronde has also en­joyed a good re­la­tion­ship with work­ers from the Pa­cific Is­land of Tu­valu for 30 years. “In the 1950s my un­cle Ter­rance had one of the largest

or­chards in the Hawke’s Bay, and my dad knew all the big GRAPE­FRUIT AND GRANNYS or­chardists down the line. “When Mum and Dad first bought the or­chard it was 20% “He knew that once trans­port sorted it­self out, Hawke’s grape­fruit and 60% Granny Smiths. The rest was stone­fruit. Bay or­chardists would come up to Auck­land and flood the Grape­fruit was put on a train and sent to Christchurch mar­ket with their non-ex­port fruit. It would be easy to send but that fell away when grape­fruit be­came less pop­u­lar,” a truck and trailer up ev­ery night. Dad saw that and tried he re­calls. to get con­trol of the Auck­land mar­ket so only the Auck­land It’s hard to imag­ine now, but it be­came too ex­pen­sive to fruit­grow­ers could sup­ply. trans­port grape­fruit to the cus­tomers who re­ally wanted it. “We formed a co-op­er­a­tive of Auck­land grow­ers through On a fam­ily trip to the South Is­land back in the day, Louis Dean, be­cause he was the only pack­house left. We grape­fruit was bet­ter than gold. used to use con­trolled at­mos­phere for ap­ples and mar­ket

un­der the name ‘Auck­land Fresh’ and that did al­right for a “I re­mem­ber when we were kids our fam­ily took a van

cou­ple of years.” around the South Is­land for the school hol­i­days,” Monte clearly re­calls with amuse­ment. IN­CREAS­ING COSTS “The day be­fore we left the old man stacked in boxes From afar, the life­style of a fam­ily or­chard block looks ru­ral of grape­fruit. I said, “are we de­liv­er­ing grape­fruit to the and ro­man­tic with a real Gar­den of Eden glow, but as any mar­ket?” This fruit stayed in the back of the van. We gave ex­pe­ri­enced ru­ral owner knows, it’s a busi­ness that has to some to rel­a­tives in Marl­bor­ough and Motueka as we pay its way. vis­ited, but by Bluff we still had five boxes of grape­fruit. In Auck­land, those run­ning costs are start­ing to bite hard.

Craig Wat­son with some of his ta­mar­illo crop. Photo cour­tesy of Craig Wat­son.

From left: The Seed – John Lau­ren­son Me­mo­rial Award for ser­vice to the ta­mar­illo in­dus­try. Ta­mar­illo Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Com­mit­tee. From left: Brian We­ston chair; Aaron Davies, IT and mem­ber­ship; Karen Pick­ford, trea­surer; Eric Wa­gener, for­mer sec­re­tary;

Ray Pater­son speaks of Craig Wat­son’s ser­vice to the ta­mar­illo in­dus­try.

Max Win­tle: One of the last mem­bers of the Auck­land Pipfruit Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

The trees are old and still pro­duce a fairly de­cent crop.

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