Kiwifruit growers Mark and Catriona White and their Coastal Kiwis orchard have won the Bay of Plenty Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Ten years ago, the couple embarked on a quest to find an improved lifestyle for their family away from the city and found it on a bare block of land near Opotiki.
Their work and passion have transformed part of an organic dairy farm into the successful 5.85ha orchard it is today, the Awards judges said.
“The concept of kaitiaki – acting as a guardian, protector and conserver – is evident in all aspects of the Coastal Kiwis orchard business.”
The judges said there was no compromise – being organic was not a barrier to excellent productivity for the orchard.
“Organics is a licence to do things differently. Every opportunity is taken to try and to learn new things through observation and open mindedness.”
Catriona’s parents had offered the couple the chance to buy part of their organic dairy farm near Opotiki to develop as a kiwifruit orchard.
“My family has been farming this land four generations and our children (Letisha, 14, and Lochlan, 13) are the fifth generation to live here. For most of that time the land has been farmed using organic principles,” Catriona says.
Although they initially didn’t know much about kiwifruit, the couple did most of the physical development work themselves, keeping costs down and learning by their mistakes. Mark also did a National Certificate in Horticulture.
The orchard had 3.19 ha of Zespri Organic Green kiwifruit, producing a total of 23,483 trays of kiwi-start fruit in 2017. Zespri Organic SunGold (G3) is currently grown on 2.65 ha producing 38,362 trays. This production was achieved in a “challenging growing year” which included various cyclones and a very wet and windy autumn. Recently developed blocks of SunGold are coming into production during the upcoming season.
Initially Hayward Green and Hort16A gold kiwifruit were grafted onto Bruno rootstock. They decided to remove the gold vines when they saw the devastation caused by the vine disease Psa-V. Organic passionfruit provided income until the newly grafted G3 vines came into production.
A small flock of certified organic sheep carry out weed control duties around the edges of the orchard, helping reduce tractor work and its associated soil compaction, especially in winter.
Organic sprays are used as required to disrupt pest life-cycles. However, there are other unpaid pest experts at work in the orchard. Weka and fantails prey on insects, bird seed plants are grown to encourage birds away from eating kiwifruit flower buds and slugs help to recycle organic material on the floor of the orchard.
“With plenty for the slugs to eat on the ground, they don’t bother to chew on the newly grafted vines. It’s a matter of finding the point at which everything can live in balance,” Mark says.
Mark is actively involved in the Tablelands Irrigation Scheme. Water use is carefully planned and monitored.
The Whites were presented with the Bay of Plenty regional supreme award at a dinner on 23 February at the ASB Baypark Arena, Mt Maunganui. They also won the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Award, ZESPRI® Kiwifruit Orchard Award and the WaterForce Integrated Management Award.
An open field day will be held at Catriona and Mark’s organic kiwifruit orchard on Wednesday April 11 from 9.30am to 1pm at 15 Walker Road, Opotiki.
Other winners at the dinner included Barbara and Wilson McGillivray, Awatea Orchard, Katikati, who won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award and the Predator Free Farm Award. Whakatane sheep and beef farmers David and Carol Hodge won the Treeline Native Nursery Farm Stewardship Award, the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award and Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environmental Award.
Te Puke’s David Timms and Gold Nugget Orchard won the Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award and the CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award. Buzz Apiaries Limited, Katikati, won the Massey University Innovation Award and the Pukekauri Farms People in Agriculture Award.
For more information please contact Bay of Plenty regional coordinator Kirsten Winter on 0275 721 244 or .