Graham and Marian Hirst are Supreme winners of the 2016 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

The couple collected a raft of awards at a ceremony in Napier last night.

They received the CB Norwood Distributors Ltd Agri-Business Management Award, East Coast Farming for the Future Award, Massey University Innovation Award and the PGG Wrightson People In Agriculture Award.

Judges said the Hirsts have committed themselves "in good and bad times" to their business and industry. They described them as "a hard-working couple using their individual strengths to create a strong team that balances innovation with production strengths".


The Hirsts run a 40ha pipfruit and blueberry operation spread over five blocks just south of Hastings.

Their business has grown considerably since 1989, when they bought 11ha of bare land and planted 1.5ha of apples.

Today they grow 32ha of apples and 2.5ha of blueberries, employing seven full-time staff, including themselves, two permanent part-timers and a seasonal team of more than 100.

While export apples account for 90 per cent of the business, a newer blueberry venture is showing significant potential.

Blueberries were introduced to the pipfruit mix in 2005 as a form of diversification, and - under the Bay Blueberries brand " the business now produces a range of fresh and frozen products for export and local sale.

The judges said persistence, passion and integrity have helped the Hirsts survive challenging periods of industry change and adverse climatic and economic conditions over almost three decades in horticulture.

They have kept the business in the family "making a difference in the horticulture industry while focusing on the basics of sound management, social responsibility and the environment".

"The Hirsts take an innovative approach in and outside the orchard gate, and create relationships wherever needed to grow their business."

A field day will be held on the Hirst family's orchard, with the date to be advised.

Other winners:

* Ivan and Sue Knauf and Lewis and Mel Knauf, Wairua Farm, Maraekakaho, Hastings: Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award; LIC Dairy Farm Award; Hill Laboratories Harvest Award; WaterForce Integrated Management Award.

* Nigel and Deirdre Tomalin, Pukeorapa Station, Nuhaka, northern Hawke's Bay: Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award.

* Tim Aitken, Lucy Robertshawe, Jim Aitken and Willa Aitken, The Steyning, Tikokino, Central Hawke's Bay: Farm Stewardship Award in partnership with the QEII National Trust and the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.