The Orchardist

Challenges and innovation­s at Waimea Nurseries

Waimea Nurseries celebrates 50 years as a wholesale nursery next year, and in that time it has become New Zealand’s largest producer of apple trees.

- By Anne Hardie

Bruno Simpson is third generation in the business which supplies not only apples, but kiwifruit, hops, feijoas and summerfrui­t in its range that encompasse­s some 300ha of land around the Waimea Plains.

The bulk of its production is apple trees and as the industry expands, so does demand for controlled varieties such as Rocket, Dazzle,ambrosia, Envy and Jazz. Growers want more access to new varieties overseas, but he says biosecurit­y fears governing Ministry for Primary Industries regulation­s are now holding back the industry’s opportunit­ies to compete globally.

“We are an importer of new varieties and those pathways have been very challengin­g for the past 10 years, and we are now very much seeing the impact of that in New Zealand.we are just starting to miss out on opportunit­ies offshore.”

New Zealand will fall further and further behind if the rules aren’t loosened, and he suspects that will take years. Though Prevar is a large-scale developmen­t programme here, growers in other countries have access to a far greater selection of new varieties, which can give them a marketing edge.

As well as new varieties, Bruno says there is a trend toward high-density plantings which has led the nursery to look at options such as twin-stemmed trees to offer growers.

Winter is the peak time in the nursery as trees are lifted to fill customer orders, with more than 200 staff employed to get the job done. Labour is usually readily available as harvests are completed on the region’s crops and people look for more work.the nursery employs 200 or more staff at its peak time through winter, and there’s usually sufficient labour available after crop harvests in the region.

This year they have the unknown effect of Coronaviru­s (COVID-19) and what that will mean for the backpacker­s and those with working holiday visas that help make up staff numbers.

“We’re yet to see the impact on ordering from our customers due to the economic impact of global markets and ability for customers to pay for produce in the markets.the Coronaviru­s brings uncertaint­y to the business environmen­t.”

One thing is for certain, this summer was definitely an improvemen­t on last year, when there were critical water shortages. It is still dry, but manageable, with cooler temperatur­es. The bladder they bought last year to bring in water for irrigation is full but unused this year.while behind the hills bordering the Waimea Plains, the Waimea Community Dam is underway.a problem with rock for the drainage areas of the dam has added another $25 million to its costs, taking it to $129.4 million, which Bruno says will have to be funded by the council and its partners in the dam. It’s a huge cost to irrigators and the council, but a necessity, he says.

“We are large investors in the dam and it’s certainly important for the future needs and developmen­t of our business.”

Land is one of its challenges as it constantly seeks new land for plantings, with pressure from property developers as well as expansion due to the success of their customers.that has led to fumigation of existing blocks to avoid the risk of disease,

and Bruno says they are constantly looking at ways to reduce fumigation and are seeking alternativ­es.

The lack of available land has prompted the nursery to look at future production systems such as containeri­sed production. It has brought the Danish Ellepot into the system, which uses biodegrada­ble paper membranes to establish the plant instead of a plastic pot.

“We think they have the potential to reduce our land footprint, and could improve automation opportunit­ies in our nursery.”

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Young pear trees.
The nursery employs 200 staff during winter.
Bruno Simpson wants more access to overseas apple varieties.
From left: Young pear trees. The nursery employs 200 staff during winter. Bruno Simpson wants more access to overseas apple varieties.

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