Con­cerned ci­ti­zen be­comes in­dus­try cham­pion Wa­ter is­sues are very much to the fore­front for one Can­ter­bury veg­etable grower.

Wa­ter is­sues are very much to the fore­front for one Can­ter­bury veg­etable grower.

NZ Grower - - Contents - By Heather Chalmers

De­spite a fam­ily his­tory of mar­ket gar­den­ing, both in New Zealand and China, Allen Lim’s par­ents were ini­tially dis­ap­pointed when he chose to start his own veg­etable grow­ing busi­ness.

“In China, peo­ple as­so­ciate mar­ket gar­den­ing with be­ing a peas­ant, so it is seen as quite a lowly oc­cu­pa­tion,” he said.

“It couldn’t fur­ther from the truth here. My fam­ily con­sid­ered that I had wasted my par­ents’ money on my en­gi­neer­ing de­gree, just for me to go back into veg­etable grow­ing. They also as­so­ci­ated mar­ket gar­den­ing with long days of phys­i­cal toil – which was cer­tainly the case ini­tially.

“Now my par­ents couldn’t be more proud of what I have achieved.”

A move into veg­etable grow­ing in Cen­tral Can­ter­bury has also led to an in­volve­ment not just in Hor­ti­cul­ture NZ, but fresh­wa­ter man­age­ment lead­er­ship roles at both a re­gional and na­tional level.

Allen was born in the Can­ton province of China, im­mi­grat­ing to NZ with his par­ents when he was 10. His fam­ily al­ready had links to this coun­try with his great-great-grand­fa­ther lured by the gold rush, later re­turn­ing to China. His great-grand­fa­ther also came, but was not able to re­turn to China be­cause of ill health, which even­tu­ally led to the rest of the fam­ily join­ing him in NZ.

The Lim fam­ily set­tled in the mar­ket gar­den­ing dis­trict of Kakanui near Oa­maru in North Otago.

“I went to Waitaki Boys High School and there was an ex­pec­ta­tion that I would go to uni­ver­sity and train as a doc­tor, den­tist or en­gi­neer, some­thing much more ‘re­spectable’ than mar­ket gar­den­ing,” he said.

Af­ter com­plet­ing a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing de­gree at Can­ter­bury Uni­ver­sity, he worked for three years at the Honda car assem­bly plant at Nel­son. He fol­lowed his then girl­friend and now wife Joanna, a lawyer, to Welling­ton where he bought into a busi­ness and got in­volved in a min­ing ven­ture. Her win­ning a schol­ar­ship to study in China prompted the cou­ple to spend a year there, based at a Bei­jing lan­guage school.

“Ev­ery week­end we would ex­plore and in the hol­i­days travel fur­ther afield.”

Re­turn­ing to NZ, they de­cided to set­tle near Christchurch as this was closer to fam­ily. Allen sold the shares in the min­ing ven­ture and used this to buy a 10 hectare block in 2002 be­tween Lin­coln and Rolle­ston, set­ting up the veg­etable grow­ing busi­ness, Jade Gar­den Pro­duce.

“Af­ter watch­ing my par­ents when I was younger I prob­a­bly came into it think­ing it was easy,” he said.

“I was prob­a­bly a bit naive. As soon as you start us­ing land more in­ten­sively you have to con­tend with dis­ease is­sues. It was a steep learn­ing curve.”

He started with Shang­hai pak choy as this was not widely grown then. A type of Chi­nese cab­bage, it is also known as bok choy.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent pro­nun­ci­a­tion of the same words. In Man­darin it’s called some­thing else again.”

As the range of veg­etable crops in­creased, so did the staff num­bers, with Jade Gar­den Pro­duce now

em­ploy­ing 16 full-time equiv­a­lents. Veg­etable crops range from the more com­mon spring onions, sil­ver beet, cab­bages, sweet­corn, pump­kin, cauliflower and leeks, to the more un­usual globe ar­ti­chokes, kohlrabi and Chi­nese daikon, a mild-flavoured radish with a long white root.

Sales are through Count­down, MG Mar­ket­ing, T&G and Fresh­max.

From Oc­to­ber 1, in con­junc­tion with busi­ness part­ner Robert Lind­say, he also took over a large-scale es­tab­lished tele­graph cu­cum­ber busi­ness, Is­land Hor­ti­cul­ture, near Ka­iapoi, just north of Christchurch from re­tir­ing grow­ers David and Deirdre Bar­ton.

Robert had a hor­ti­cul­ture de­gree, was formerly a wheat breeder at Plant & Food Re­search and “my tramp­ing buddy”, said Allen.

“I have been told so many times about not go­ing into busi­ness with your friends, but I know of a num­ber of in­stances where it has been very suc­cess­ful. We have had a lot of time on tramps to talk about things and in the end, I trust Rob to run the busi­ness.”

Ini­tially Jade Gar­den ben­e­fit­ted from be­ing close to Christchurch, but was now at risk from ur­ban en­croach­ment.

“With Rolle­ston con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand, we are now only a few hun­dred me­tres away from the lat­est sub­di­vi­sion. So we are start­ing to get into the Pukekohe sit­u­a­tion where houses are com­ing up to our land.

“Al­ready we have had com­plaints about dirt dropped on the road which we never had be­fore.”

His in­volve­ment in fresh­wa­ter man­age­ment is­sues came af­ter he be­came con­cerned about the state of his lo­cal river. “When our chil­dren were lit­tle we used to go to Cham­ber­lain’s Ford and Coe’s Ford in the Sel­wyn River to swim and to gather wa­ter­cress,” he said. >

“The place was quite fam­ily-friendly. But then we re­alised there were is­sues with wa­ter qual­ity.

“Through HortNZ, I also heard there were likely to be changes in the way wa­ter was man­aged and grow­ers may need a re­source con­sent to op­er­ate.”

Allen ap­plied and was se­lected in 2014 as a com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tive on En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury’s Sel­wyn Wai­hora wa­ter zone com­mit­tee, one of 10 cov­er­ing Can­ter­bury.

“I came in as a con­cerned ci­ti­zen, but I’m also linked to in­dus­try as a mar­ket gar­dener, so I can cham­pion its cause too,” said Allen who be­came the com­mit­tee’s chair­man a year later.

As the Sel­wyn Wai­hora wa­ter zone was clas­si­fied by ECan as a “red zone”, a catch­ment where wa­ter qual­ity out­comes were not be­ing met, strin­gent nutri­ent loss lim­its have been set for the dis­trict. By 2022, dairy farm­ers in the zone must re­duce their ni­tro­gen loss by 30 per­cent, arable by seven per­cent and veg­etable grow­ers by five per­cent. The re­duc­tions were cal­cu­lated from a base­line nutri­ent bud­get us­ing a four-year av­er­age be­tween 2009 and 2013.

The Sel­wyn Wai­hora catch­ment was also par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive as

much of its wa­ter­ways even­tu­ally flow into Lake Te Wai­hora/Ellesmere, a shal­low coastal lake re­garded as the most im­por­tant wet­land habi­tat of its type in NZ, with an abun­dance of birds and fish.

“The nutri­ent loss lim­its had largely been set when I joined the zone com­mit­tee, but we were still work­ing through the de­tails, con­sult­ing with farm­ers about their obli­ga­tions and how the changes would af­fect them,” Allen said.

“It was quite nerve-rack­ing at first be­cause there was a lot of ten­sion in the meet­ings. Not just the zone com­mit­tee ones, but the meet­ings with farm­ers. As a grower, but also be­ing on the zone com­mit­tee you were walk­ing a fine line. You are ad­vo­cat­ing for farm­ers and grow­ers while mak­ing the rules which gov­ern the farm­ers so it’s not an easy place to be.

“There was anger at some of the ear­lier meet­ings and, from the oc­ca­sional per­son, de­fi­ance as well. Since 2014, there has been a mas­sive shift in the way peo­ple are think­ing about fresh­wa­ter is­sues. In the same way the world, apart from Don­ald Trump, ac­knowl­edges global warm­ing, farm­ers now recog­nise that ni­trate leach­ing is an is­sue and most comes from farm­ing.”

Be­ing on the zone com­mit­tee has led Allen to eval­u­ate his own busi­nesses’ en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print.

“Go­ing through this limit-set­ting process has made me re-ex­am­ine the way we do things on the farm,” he said.

“We have made changes that have ben­e­fited the bot­tom line sig­nif­i­cantly.”

While he was not us­ing less fer­tiliser, he was pro­duc­ing more veg­eta­bles per hectare and con­cluded he must be also leach­ing less.

“We also take a lot more in­ter­est in look­ing af­ter the soil. If you keep tak­ing the or­ganic mat­ter out of the soil then you es­sen­tially end up with some­thing that’s more like a hy­dro­ponic sys­tem.”

As well as land be­com­ing con­strained by ur­ban en­croach­ment, the new nutri­ent limit rules had also made it dif­fi­cult to lease or swap land to grow crops.

“I used to do land swaps with nearby arable farm­ers,” he said.

“I’d get a fresh piece of land free of dis­eases as­so­ci­ated with veg­eta­bles. I would ap­ply fer­tiliser for say a broc­coli crop and har­vest the heads. The farmer then had the ben­e­fit of the plant residue for live­stock graz­ing and slightly more nu­tri­ents in the soil than when he handed over to me.

“The ben­e­fit for my bit of land was that af­ter a ce­real crop, my soil gets a boost of or­ganic mat­ter from the plant’s ex­ten­sive root sys­tem which helps im­prove soil struc­ture, and I get to rest my land. >

“The dis­ap­point­ing thing was that the new farm­ing rules put a stop to that, as it was too dif­fi­cult to ac­count for each other’s nutri­ent load un­der Overseer and to jus­tify what you are do­ing in the con­sent­ing process.

“The rules also meant I couldn’t lease a piece of land with a low base­line and grow veg­eta­bles on it as veg­etable pro­duc­tion gen­er­ally leaches more than arable and I am not al­lowed to go above the base­line.

“With Rolle­ston hous­ing com­ing closer I had lost some of the land where I es­tab­lished my base­line.”

As Allen grows a lot of bras­sica crops he re­quires lease land to pre­vent the soil-borne dis­ease club root. Grow­ers of crops like onions and pota­toes were also re­liant on lease land to pre­vent a build-up of soil-borne dis­ease.

“This un­in­tended con­se­quence has caught a lot of grow­ers out through­out the coun­try, as other re­gional coun­cils have adopted those rules from Can­ter­bury,” he said. Lob­by­ing by HortNZ meant that ECan was plan­ning a plan change next year to rec­tify this.

Allen is very ac­tive lo­cally both on fresh­wa­ter man­age­ment and in­dus­try good is­sues. It was that and his role as zone com­mit­tee chair­man that led to him be­ing asked to join the na­tional Fresh­wa­ter Lead­ers Group, part of a Gov­ern­ment blue­print for a no­tice­able im­prove­ment in wa­ter qual­ity within five years, with new rules planned to be in place by 2020.

“The time­frame is quite tight, so there is a lot of work ahead of us,” Allen said.

“Gov­ern­ment will use us as a sound­ing board for their poli­cies.”

He be­lieves the Sel­wyn Wai­hora catch­ment is way ahead of the rest of the coun­try.

“We have put in rules and poli­cies in place to hold the line and then re­quire farm­ers to re­duce their leach­ing by 2022. On top of the rules, there is a fairly com­pre­hen­sive, non-statu­tory work pro­gramme in place like ri­par­ian plant­ing, wet­land restora­tion, and bio­di­ver­sity pro­tec­tion and plant­ing.

“The coolest project is the Sel­wyn/ Waikirikiri Near River Recharge project where we are look­ing to take up to 3.5 cumecs of wa­ter from the Cen­tral Plains Wa­ter ir­ri­gation scheme dur­ing the win­ter months to boost the Sel­wyn river to main­tain eco­log­i­cal flow and to pre­vent it from go­ing dry again at Coes Ford. So we have done a lot of things to en­sure the en­vi­ron­ment is looked af­ter, while still farm­ing prof­itably.”

Allen has sev­eral hor­ti­cul­tural lead­er­ship roles in­clud­ing be­ing a board mem­ber on Veg­eta­bles NZ Inc and a mem­ber of the bras­sica ad­vi­sory group. He is also a com­mit­tee mem­ber on NZGAP and veg­eta­ This means he’s of­ten away from his mar­ket gar­den busi­ness, re­ly­ing on his staff in­clud­ing farm man­ager, Phil Rogers.

“I have put a lot of time into up-skilling staff,” he said.

“I have put sev­eral through Pri­mary ITO train­ing and most have their HT (heavy ve­hi­cle) and fork­lift li­cence, so they can cover for each other. I am also ex­tremely for­tu­nate to have Max Lil­ley, a for­mer VegFed pres­i­dent, as a men­tor. I trust them all to do their job and don’t mi­cro-man­age.”

Allen en­joys his new roles and the ex­pan­sion in knowl­edge re­quired.

“I even take read­ing ma­te­rial on hol­i­day,” he said.

“I love the learn­ing.”

As Allen grows a lot of bras­sica crops he re­quires lease land to pre­vent the soil-borne dis­ease club root. Grow­ers of crops like onions and pota­toes were also re­liant on lease land to pre­vent a build-up of soil-borne dis­ease.

◀ Grower Allen Lim’s mar­ket gar­den­ing op­er­a­tion near Christchurch is at risk from ur­ban en­croach­ment. ▴ Allen Lim, left, and his busi­ness part­ner Robert Lind­say took over a large-scale tele­graph cu­cum­ber grow­ing busi­ness at Ka­iapoi, just north of Christchurch, on Oc­to­ber 1.

The rules also meant I couldn't lease a piece of land with a low base­line and grow veg­eta­bles on it as veg­etable pro­duc­tion gen­er­ally leaches more than arable and I am not al­lowed to go above the base­line.

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