Orchards Innovation Recognised in Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards


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Entering the Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the second time proved well worthwhile for pipfruit operation JR’s Orchard Ltd.

Owners JR Van Vliet and Jamiee Burns first entered in 2009 and were thrilled to win the Innovation award for the clever way they installed crop protection netting on the 117ha orchard (92ha planted) on the eastern edge of Greytown.   

“We found the awards to be a wonderful experience,” says Jamiee.

“We learnt so much, and it made us re-evaluate some of the processes we were using in the operation.”

Jamiee and JR have continued to improve their business and when they entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) again in 2015, they picked up another three category awards. These included the Massey University Innovation Award, which recognises farmers and farming families who develop or embrace new technologies and systems, and have an established record of advancing farm or orchard practices for improved results.

Professor of soil science at Massey University Mike Hedley says the university is delighted to be a sponsor of the Farm Environment Awards.

“Sustainable production is vital for the country and the globe” he says.

“We are pleased to be working with the farmers and horticulturists of New Zealand, defining sustainability with innovation and creativity – discovering a better future.”

Jamiee Burns says new technology has played a major role in improving efficiency on the orchard. For example, a Compac apple grader “with all the bells and whistles” provides pinpoint accuracy in both quality control and packing, and ensures customers get the consistent quality they desire.

Another key piece of equipment is a pack-weight-optimiser, which ensures export apples are packed to exact specification.

“We supply European supermarkets directly, so it’s very important to get the weight right in every pack,” says Jamiee, who estimates the system saves around 500kg a day by minimising   potential over packing.

BFEA judges said JR and Jamiee “understand the need for technology in the business and adopt it willingly”. They described JR’s Orchards as “a proven industry leader”.

Jamiee says they were “incredibly proud and humbled” to collect the Massey University Innovation Award, along with the WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award.

“Being involved in the awards was a thoroughly rewarding experience for us. The judges came from a diverse range of backgrounds, and it was great to have that fresh pair of eyes looking at our business.”

While Jamiee and JR were a little nervous before the judges arrived, “all that vanished once they got here. The judging process was very enjoyable”.

Jamiee says the BFEA stamp of approval gives the orchard extra credibility when it comes to marketing “because it assures our customers that our fruit is produced in a way that is as sustainable as possible”.  

She says all primary producers should enter the BFEA.

“It’s lovely to win something. But, win or lose, it’s always healthy to re-evaluate your business and this competition definitely makes you do that.”

Entries for the 2016 Greater Wellington BFEA close on 16th October 2015. Entry forms are available online at www.bfea.org.nz

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