Northland could become the hydroponic horticultural capital of the country with a $2.37-million Provincial Growth Fund loan going to a Whangarei company to expand its already huge hydroponic operation and create 45 new fulltime jobs.

The $2.37m PGF partnership was announced by the Minister of Regional Economic Development, Shane Jones, at Whangarei business Maungatapere Berries that will create the first centre for growing excellence in the New Zealand hydroponics horticulture industry.

The partnership will enable Maungatapere Berries, owned by the Malley Family, to develop the first phase of a high-tech education, training and employment operation, as part of a 20ha hydroponic orchard expansion, doubling its workforce to 360 over the next five to eight years.

As new generation growers Patrick and Rebecca Malley said they are excited at the potential of hydroponics as one of the greatest untapped opportunities for the future of sustainable horticulture in Northland.

Maungatapere Berries director Patrick Malley and berryfruit manager Aroha Heta.
Maungatapere Berries director Patrick Malley and berryfruit manager Aroha Heta.

"Our plan, as part of the PGF partnership, is to further build on the extensive work the family's business has already undertaken in hydroponics providing permanent employment opportunities for locals in horticulture,'' Patrick Malley said.

"We aim to use it as a template designed to create better paying jobs and lifelong careers for young Northlanders as well as improving the social and economic benefits for local communities.''

The hydroponic orchard will focus on berryfruit and other fruit varieties that flourish when grown hydroponically in Northland's warm semi-tropical climate. He said the hydroponic centre of excellence will become a sustainable farming reference site for Northland growers with the aim of introducing and increasing the production of hydroponic fruit crops in the region and improving the economic opportunities for the Northland region.

The Malley family first started developing part of their 37ha kiwifruit orchard into a hydroponic berry operation four years ago, focusing on growing high-quality, good-tasting fruit to supply the New Zealand domestic market all year round.

They have continued investing and expanding their operation, which employs 45 fulltime staff and an additional 180 staff during the peak season, and includes an advanced packhouse servicing the domestic market, with future plans to export.

He said ongoing research into new fruit crops combined with greenhouse innovation and a strategy to build deep capability has the potential to develop a large environmentally sustainable horticultural industry that supports real growth in living wage employment and social equality for Northland.

Jones said the PGF will invest in the rapid expansion of a labour intensive, high-tech, hydroponic berry-growing operation in Northland with a loan of $2.37 million for the first phase of expanding its operations.

"The coalition Government knows regional New Zealand can't put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to economic development. This is another example of the PGF investing in a diverse range of industries to grow provincial economies and provide jobs and training into the future for their people," Jones said.