Blueberries will be the foundation crop of a new joint venture between a Maori collective and Government scientists that will use technologies not seen before in New Zealand to grow export berries in non-traditional growing regions and climates.
The 50:50 deal between Miro Limited Partnership, owned by more than 20 Maori trusts and iwi from the Far North to the top of the South Island, and state-owned science company Plant and Food Research, will create a breeding programme for new high-value berry varieties, to be grown, marketed and sold by Miro, with support from BerryCo NZ.
Miro aims to build a business as successful as kiwifruit exporter Zespri.
Miro director and horticultural entrepreneur Steve Saunders said the vision for the business, which was incorporated about six months ago, is to drive and develop the berry industry and the regional Maori economy for current and future generations.
The initiative would assist regional economic development, create better use of Maori land and provide intergenerational opportunities for Maori, he said.
Plant and Food chief executive David Hughes said blueberries would be the first focus of the new venture. Blueberries have been commercially grown in New Zealand for more than two decades, their export value doubling since 2010 to $41 million in 2016, spurred by research and recognition of their health benefits.
But Hughes said the industry was tiny with few suitable growing regions and narrow harvest windows. The plan was to change this situation with the use of new varieties and innovative growing technologies, including tunnels and soil media.
The joint venture aligned with Plant and Food's mandate to use research innovation to add value to horticulture crops and their industries, Hughes said.
"In Miro we have a partner with global ambitions matched by scale and capability in New Zealand. This deal will open fresh innovation challenges for our scientists ... we are especially pleased to contribute to the rapidly-growing Maori economy and to support job creation and business activity in the regions."
Miro chairperson Rukumoana Schaafhausen said Maori from throughout the North Island to the top of the South Island had come together to achieve common goals.
"We wanted jobs for our people, higher returns on our land and to own IP and a global business that would secure a future for our mokopuna."
There was no reason why berries could not be the next billion-dollar horticulture industry and Miro would like more Maori landowners to join.
In 2016 New Zealand had 75 blueberry growers on 700ha.
Production was 3914 tonnes, with domestic fresh fruit sales of $18m and exports valued at $36.5m.
Frozen exported blueberries earned another $5m while domestic frozen sales earned $2.8m.
The Maori economy is valued at $50 billion.