Mike Muller was a pioneer and respected leader in the kiwifruit industry who will be remembered for his uncanny ability to connect with growers and promote opportunities that would help shape the industry we know today.

About 500 friends, family and kiwifruit growers from as far afield as Motueka farewelled Mr Muller last Saturday and paid tribute to the humble 72-year-old who believed the real value in life was not what you do but how you live - and loved nothing better than to "nut out a problem".

His family said he always told them to ''love your mum''.
''Value your faith. Cuddle your kids. And you have to learn to think, think, think.''

Those guiding words would help anchor the family as they coped with their grief, his eldest son, MP for Bay of Plenty Todd Muller said.

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Mike Muller was born on January 6, 1945, in Otahuhu, the middle child of seven for dairy factory manager Recardus and wife Phyllis Muller.

He was brought up in Gordonton, left school at age 15 to work as a farm hand and later went dairy farming with his brother Peter. He was a shy teenager but forced himself to learn new skills and won a best speaker competition after joining the local Dale Carnegie course.

He met his soulmate Trish at a CYM dance and the pair, who shared a strong Catholic faith and were not afraid of discipline or hard work, married on February 17, 1968, at Te Aroha.

The couple had four sons Todd, Gavin, Craig and Nathan but it was a decision to leave dairy farming and buy a Chinese gooseberry orchard in Te Puna - in 1974 which the family still owns - that would change their lives.

It was a brutal arrival into the emerging industry where Mike started off growing the wrong variety Bruno that tasted good but had no shelf life. So the Mullers worked themselves to a standstill cleaning the Te Puna Tavern, pumping gas and doing odd jobs in order to graft the orchard over to Hayward and stop the bank from foreclosing.

But their fortunes changed after Mike met Roly and his late son Brian Earp who encouraged him into contract spraying. Other ventures followed, including packing fellow growers fruit and the establishment of Apata Coolstores Ltd - with Brian and Peter Mayston.

And it did not stop there.

Horticultural consultant Peter Mulligan said Mike made a significant contribution to the development of the industry in many spheres.

''We worked together as a two-man team on a number of projects, contracted to Zespri, over the past 20 years. These projects have included Taste Japan, Taste Zespri, Introduction of Hort16A, Improving Hayward Productivity and the New Variety Programme.''

''Our role was primarily technical transfer, providing kiwifruit growers with information that they could use to improve orchard productivity and fruit quality thereby increasing their financial returns, or in Mike's language "increase the left-over money".

His clear-thinking approach and close observation of the vines made a great contribution to the projects, he said.

''He liked nothing better than to "nut out a problem". Industry problems like Psa presented challenges to find solutions. Mike in typical fashion would, as the discussion unfolded, plot the best way forward based on a series of logical, well thought out arguments. These solutions benefited his clients and the industry generally.''

Zespri chief executive Lain Jager also paid credit to Mike and said he had networks around the country and was at the forefront of many developments in an industry career that spanned 36 years.

Todd Muller said his father was a man people felt they could trust and the close knit family had benefited hugely from his wisdom and perspective. - Carmen Hall