Farewell to a per­sim­mon pi­o­neer

Lind­say Wells’ death in early Au­gust has left a mas­sive chasm in the per­sim­mon world and amongst his fam­ily and friends.

The Orchardist - - Obituary - By Wendy Lau­ren­son

The North­land or­chardist was the grand­fa­ther of New Zealand’s per­sim­mon in­dus­try and largely re­spon­si­ble for estab­lish­ing and fine tun­ing cur­rent grow­ing and posthar­vest pro­ce­dures, ex­port stan­dards and over­all in­dus­try com­pli­ance bench­marks. And he was men­tor to many as he had a huge ca­pac­ity and gen­er­ously shared what he knew with any­one keen to put the ef­fort in.

Hor­ti­cul­ture was al­ways a big part of what formed and fu­elled Lind­say’s life. He first trained as a sci­ence tech­ni­cian for the For­est Re­search In­sti­tute (FRI) in Ro­torua, then moved north to be­come branch man­ager and soil ero­sion spe­cial­ist for the then Whangarei Depart­ment of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (DSIR). By 1979 Lind­say was ready to stretch his en­tre­pre­neur­ial wings so ran his own plant nurs­ery for a cou­ple of years be­fore he and his wife Ter­rie bought their prop­erty, Val­ley View Or­chard, just north of Whangarei.

They planted their first per­sim­mons in 1981 and packed for ex­port in their own small Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture-ap­proved pack­house on the prop­erty. They grew tamar­il­los and nashi as cash crops over the next decade, and later Yen Ben lemons, but per­sim­mons were al­ways front and cen­tre and cur­rently stand at 16 canopy hectares.

While per­sim­mons were Lind­say and Ter­rie’s pas­sion, fam­ily was their foun­da­tion. Their daugh­ter Bron­wyn and son Duane

“Dad’s adapt­abil­ity was prob­a­bly a big part of his re­silience.”

grew up work­ing on the or­chard, then af­ter they left home, watched from a dis­tance as the home prop­erty grew and the in­dus­try evolved. Both of them re­turned home 16 years ago to be part of the fam­ily busi­ness.

“Our fam­ily has al­ways been re­ally tight and sup­port­ive of each other,” Bron­wyn said.

“Dad was hugely en­cour­ag­ing for us to go for what­ever we wanted, so we knew there was an op­por­tu­nity here but no pres­sure to be part of it. The busi­ness had grown to the point where it was time to spread the load a bit, and both Duane and I could bring dif­fer­ent skills and the next-gen­er­a­tion per­spec­tive. We’d been away do­ing own things for 10 years.”

Duane said that in 2008, un­der his fa­ther’s guid­ance, they con­tin­ued to in­crease their pro­duc­tion on the home prop­erty as well as up­grad­ing to new, larger pack­ing premises, NTL, in Maun­gat­a­pere on the other side of Whangarei.

“Now we grade and pack av­o­ca­dos for ex­port and do­mes­tic mar­kets all year round, and per­sim­mons in May and June. Bron­wyn man­ages all of the pro­duc­tion and on-or­chard staffing side of the busi­ness while I look af­ter the post-har­vest, pack­house and mar­ket­ing side of things.”

And Lind­say has al­ways over­seen the whole project.

“He had a way of be­ing right there and avail­able, but still leav­ing us enough space to grow into our roles in our way,” Duane said.

“He was a pow­er­ful pres­ence and he had strong opin­ions, but he also lis­tened and was adapt­able when change was needed.”

And change was of­ten re­quired as to sur­vive in pri­mary in­dus­try growers hve to have the flex­i­bil­ity to dance through the va­garies of weather, labour, prices, pests and mar­kets.

“Dad’s adapt­abil­ity was prob­a­bly a big part of his re­silience,” Bron­wyn said.

“For 35 years he sur­vived and ul­ti­mately thrived in the ever-chang­ing world of grow­ing, pack­ing and mar­ket­ing per­sim­mons. He was a plan­ner, but if some­thing went wrong he would go straight to look at what we needed to do to fix it. He would re­search, ask ques­tions, lis­ten, take ad­vice (though he of­ten wouldn’t ad­mit to that!), then try things, and go with what worked.”

Bron­wyn said her fa­ther was for­ever the ‘mad’ sci­en­tist – but very grounded with it.

“He was al­ways look­ing for bet­ter ways to do things,” she said.

“He was an in­ven­tor of both gad­gets and pro­cesses. Unique pick­ing trol­leys that have en­abled us to reach up 3.6 me­tres, were his in­ven­tion, and he con­verted his golf trundler to a pal­let strap­ping cart.”

Lind­say’s in­ter­est in in­no­va­tion ranged from re­search into cool­store pro­cesses, to hot wa­ter dis­in­fes­ta­tion tri­als, and to a re­flec­tive mulch-hold­ing so­lu­tion. And his search for so­lu­tions meant he cre­ated in­dus­try sys­tems and pro­cesses to best sup­port per­sim­mon grow­ing, post-har­vest and ex­port. He was a key founder of the per­sim­mon in­dus­try body in the early 1980s and was a mem­ber and chair from then un­til 2010.

His in­ter­ests and ca­pa­bil­i­ties ex­tended to both hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try in­put and train­ing. He was a work place asses­sor for the Hor­ti­cul­ture In­dus­try Train­ing Or­gan­i­sa­tion (HITO) and was mem­ber and chair of the North­land Hor­ti­cul­ture Fo­rum from 2007 to 2016. Within that time he was also tu­tor and hor­ti­cul­tural pro­gramme de­vel­oper for Ru­ralTec near Whangarei for three years.

Some of Lind­say’s for­ward think­ing was ac­knowl­edged when the fam­ily busi­ness won an award in the Bal­lance Farm En­vi­ron­ment Awards in 2008. This led to him get­ting in­volved with that or­gan­i­sa­tion from 2009 to 2013 and be­com­ing a judge of the supreme award.

With NTL’s move into av­o­cado pack­ing, Lind­say be­came a mem­ber and chair of the NZ Av­o­cado Pack­ers Fo­rum, and he re­tained that role un­til a cou­ple of years ago. Duane – “Dad was still serv­ing as the HortNZ rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Hor­ti­cul­tural Ex­port Au­thor­ity (HEA), and he was still very in­volved with both the North­land and Na­tional Ru­ral Sup­port Trust (RST). He did a huge amount – and most of that work was vol­un­tary.”

While Lind­say Wells will be re­mem­bered for his im­mense knowl­edge and con­tri­bu­tion to per­sim­mons, hor­ti­cul­ture, and in the local com­mu­nity, he will also be re­mem­bered for his warmth and gen­eros­ity. Duane – “He men­tored Bron and me. He re­ally lis­tened to us (and plenty of oth­ers) as we worked through the triv­ial things like whether to have milk in cof­fee, through to whether to in­vest in an­other project. He was al­ways there for us.”

Bron­wyn – “He taught us com­pas­sion and he was hugely em­pa­thetic and sup­port­ive. He taught us to al­ways strive for what we want and to per­se­vere. He taught me how to speak my mind with­out los­ing my dig­nity. He was a pow­er­ful man but he would en­cour­age us to con­front and chal­lenge him. He’d find out what drove us. He coached us not to set­tle for or­di­nary – so we haven’t.”

One of Lind­say’s re­cent in­dus­try projects has been pre­par­ing the way for per­sim­mon ex­port into the Chi­nese mar­ket, which is just now com­ing to fruition. And on the NTL busi­ness front

he has been de­vel­op­ing value-added per­sim­mon prod­ucts in­clud­ing shelf-stable pulp, and per­sim­mon-based non-dairy ice-cream. “We’re due to launch Dad’s My Good­ness ice-cream later in Oc­to­ber, so al­ready his legacy lives on,” Duane said.

“Un­til I came home to work here I didn’t re­alise how ca­pa­ble Dad was as a busi­ness­man. I al­ways re­spected his hor­ti­cul­tural knowl­edge, but he was also very savvy in busi­ness. The ev­i­dence of that is what we’re stand­ing in.”

Four gen­er­a­tions all live on the Wells’ home per­sim­mon block. Lind­say’s 98-year -old fa­ther lives in a flat in Ter­rie and Lind­say’s house, while Duane and his fam­ily, and Bron­wyn and her fam­ily have sep­a­rate houses on the prop­erty. Ter­rie is still ac­tively in­volved in the post-har­vest and ad­min side of the busi­ness. Bron­wyn and her hus­band, Lance Wal­ters, are run­ning dif­fer­ent as­pects of the or­chard pro­duc­tion.

“And just re­cently, my wife, Sarah, has come into the busi­ness to help with pro­mo­tion, sales and mar­ket­ing, and to work with Mum in keep­ing up with our av­o­cado sup­pli­ers,” said Duane.

“The won­der of it is that we’ve man­aged to all still like and re­spect each other, and we want to work to­gether. That’s mostly credit to Dad. He cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where there was enough al­low­ing, enough chal­lenge, enough sup­port, and enough love to let us all de­velop – in­clud­ing our kids.

“Hav­ing the whole fam­ily here and in­volved in the busi­ness has al­ways been Dad’s dream. It’s a big part of what he was cre­at­ing all of this for – even though he didn’t say it as such. He pre­pared and trained us to step up and out be­yond where he could go on his own, and things are still ex­pand­ing. “The suc­cess of this place made him proud and he was es­pe­cially happy in the last month of his life. He’s been frus­trated with some health is­sues he had in re­cent years but he and Mum had a trip to Wales for a fam­ily wed­ding a cou­ple of months ago.

“Since their re­turn, he’s has been back to the Dad we al­ways knew. He had his wit­ti­ness and charisma back. He was happy, proud, more phys­i­cally able, de­ter­mined as ever and very sat­is­fied with the pro­gres­sion of fam­ily and busi­ness.”

On re­flec­tion, both Duane and Bron­wyn re­mem­ber a con­ver­sa­tion they’d had with Lind­say the week be­fore he died.

“We’d been hav­ing our reg­u­lar man­age­ment meet­ing in which we were dis­cussing the use of chem­i­cal or man­ual weed man­age­ment,” Bron­wyn said.

“Our phi­los­o­phy was to move away from glyphosate. Dad had re­searched a new prod­uct and pre­sented his find­ings. Nor­mally he was pow­er­ful in how he ex­pressed his opin­ions but that day his words still re­ver­ber­ate through me. He said; ‘That’s my opin­ion, but I will sup­port you in what­ever di­rec­tion you take.’

“It was like he had seen and put in place all he that he needed to and he now had to­tal trust in us to take things for­ward from here.”

“So that’s what we’re do­ing,” Duane said.

Clock­wise from top left: Lind­say Wells makes him­self use­ful on the grad­ing ta­ble. Duane, Ter­rie and Lind­say Wells in the NTL pack­house. Bron­wyn Wal­ters at home on the Wellsʼ or­chard.

Wellsʼ per­sim­mons

Ter­rie and Lind­say Wells. Photo cour­tesy of the Wells fam­ily

Four gen­er­a­tions of the Wells fam­ily live on the or­chard.Left to right; Duane Wells, Sarah Wells, Myles Wells, Harry Wells, Knocker Wells (in cardi­gan), Lind­say Wells, Kobe Wal­ters, Ben­son Wal­ters, Han­nah Wal­ters, Ter­rie Wells, Lance Wal­ters and Bron­wyn Wal­ters.

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