New Zealand's only commercial tea growing estate Zealong has made its debut at Fieldays with a world-first tea farming machine dubbed "The Transformer".
The Waikato organic tea estate which makes a wide range of export fine teas from oolong to botanical beverages, worked with a French manufacturer of vineyard machinery to develop the custom-designed hydraulic tractor.
General manager Gigi Crawford said it can do just about everything on the 80-hectare certified organic estate at Gordonton, except picking which is done by hand for just 60 days of the year.
The machine is nicknamed "The Transformer" due to its system of moving parts and attachments, said Crawford.
It straddles two rows of tea as it trims, prunes, mows, weeds, ploughs, or spreads fertiliser.
"Due to strict organic regulations, we were unable to use conventional methods - for example, having to manually control weeds, and having limited options for BioGro-approved organic fertiliser," said Zealong R&D Manager, Fabien Maisonneuve.
"We had to think outside the box - using expertise from several different countries within our team, we've ended up with a machine with a wider range of applications, less wear and tear, and more power than the mechanical machinery traditionally used on tea farms."
The machine is attracting interest from vineyard operators and orchardists at Fieldays, Crawford said.
The Zealong business is a proven innovator. As well as establishing the only tea estate in New Zealand, it was the first to grow oolong tea outside of Asia, with full estate traceability via ISO22000 HACCP food safety certification.