With farmers facing increased volatility, alternative crops for top-end markets could be the way of the future for Tararua.

Last Monday's feijoa field day and workshop in Dannevirke was designed to expand on existing grower-led initiatives and maximise commercial opportunities for the benefit of local growers, Lianne Simpkin, the Tararua District Council's economic development and communications manager, said.

Mrs Simpkin said she believes Tararua could be the feijoa capital of the world.

"But we need some really big growers and we're encouraging people to work together."

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Growing produce is not the biggest hurdle facing most fresh food growers, however, it's developing a marketing strategy.

For Tararua grower Gerry Parker, whose property is just south of the Tui Brewery, his business ethos is a commitment to good quality, healthy food grown in a sustainable way.

"But we need a big volumes to make a difference," he said.

More than 30 people attended the event, visiting two local growers, Gerry Parker and Richard Emery, and then learning more from Ron Bailey, the past president of the Avocado Growers Association, Dr Andrew West of Massey University and Todd Abrahams of Pole-to-Pole Fresh.

Studies carried out by TDC in conjunction with Niwa on crops which would work in Tararua, have identified 10 high-end, high-return crops, including feijoas, Mrs Simpkin said.

At Mr Emery's Kaitoki River Rd block east of Dannevirke, 400 feijoa trees have been planted, with another 300 on the way, the trees costing $12 plus GST sourced from Waimea Nurseries in Nelson.

To develop his block so far has cost $17,000.

"I'm not just sticking to feijoas," Mr Emery said. "I've planted 30 plum trees, 23 hazelnuts and a couple of rows of grapes."

Richard and Julie Winder from Greytown have added feijoas to their orchard of 1200 olive trees, along with citrus, pomegranates, hazelnuts and saffron.

The Winders belong to the hazelnut group set up by Mrs Simpkin as part of the council's GO! Project and they believe she is working particularly well helping to promote alternate crops.

Louise Charlton (left), of the Tararua Business Network, discusses crop options at Richard Emery's property on Kaitoki River Rd.
Louise Charlton (left), of the Tararua Business Network, discusses crop options at Richard Emery's property on Kaitoki River Rd.

Selling their olive oil, Greytown Gold, to delicatessens, at Moore Wilson stores and online, they are able to utilise an olive press just 4km up the road from their orchard.

"We also dry our feijoas and package them for sale and now we're looking at pulping and freezing them in 100g vacuum packs to meet the demand for smoothies," Julie said. "We're also trialling capers, it's something no one else is doing. We sell to a niche market, direct to restaurants, along with our saffron."

Louise Charlton, one of the team at the Tararua Business Network, is working with supermarkets, encouraging them to stock local.

"We want to be the region which has the biggest grown local section," she said.

From Te Puke, Mr Bailey was a pioneer in the development of the avocado industry. He said it was important to grow quality fruit in enough volume to ensure marketers could sell with confidence.

And Dr West, a lecturer at Massey University's Institute of Food Science and Technology, said there is interest in the health benefits of feijoas, with the importance of working together to create opportunities vital to the development of the industry.

Mr Abrahams has established Zeijoa Ltd, as an avenue for exports.