Maungatapere Berries is hoping to be harvesting beautiful fresh raspberries and blackberries from its new Far North expansion – Kaikohe Berryfruit – this November.
The award-winning Whangārei berry producer has entered into a partnership with Ngāpuhi Asset Holding Company and Far North Holdings Ltd to form Kaikohe Berryfruit Ltd, which will develop an initial 10ha of hydroponic tunnel houses on 28ha at the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park just outside of Kaikohe.
Co-founder and director of Maungatapere Berries Patrick Malley said 22 locals are already working on the project with another 12-15 people about to join them.
"The next recruiting round is in July, with another 30 people being employed for growing tasks from around Kaikohe, Kawakawa and Moerewa and even further north,'' he said.
All the jobs so far are construction based, building tunnel houses and setting up irrigation for the growing system, which will cover 10ha by the end of this year.
"Over time we anticipate employing 80 fulltime staff and about 120 seasonal staff. Roles will range from picking, growing and packing through to technical, irrigation, management and administration positions,'' he said.
Malley said the tunnel houses will use sustainable horticulture practices, including "closed loop" recycling systems, sustainable water use, biological pest and disease controls and a precision nutrient system.
The company will pack its berries on-site into recycled cardboard trays and 100 per cent recycled plastic (RPET) punnets, both manufactured in New Zealand.
"Sustainability is a key ethos for our company, across the environment and our community, and we are always looking at ways to keep our environmental impact as low as possible while also creating long term career pathways for people in the horticulture industry.''
Malley said the Ngawha expansion was made possible by investments from the Provincial Growth Fund into the creation of the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park by Far North Holdings and a new water dam, Matawii, being built in the area by the newly formed Tai Tokerau Water Trust.
"Water is vital to our hydroponic operations and the new dam means we are not going to be extracting water from local aquifers.
"That's important to us as our focus is on sustainable horticulture,'' he said.
The focus on sustainability includes keeping staff employed as much as possible.
"There is not much down time. We are producing fruit for about 10 months of the year and so we are able to keep more people employed in full-time positions."
The multi-generational company's Maungatapere orchard covers 37ha, growing kiwifruit and berries, and employs 57 people fulltime and between 100 and 120 seasonal workers.
The produce grown under the Maungatapere Berries brand includes blackberries and raspberries, as well as a natural sport variety that was discovered by one of their workers.
"The Solberry has been named after our employee, Sol, who found the variety, which is a golden albino raspberry that is unique to us.''
The Solberry has a delicate peachy-yellow colour and an almost floral taste, with a tropical flavour that is less tart than raspberries.
Stabilising the sport variety so that the fruit produced stayed consistent was achieved with great difficulty, he said.
"It's taken a couple of years to get it to commercial quantities and we are still in the early stages so it's only available in a few select Countdown stores,'' he said.
"There is a large amount of domestic demand, which takes all we can produce. People looking for a nice healthy treat can buy our produce through supermarkets nationwide."
Berries are a rich source of vitamin C and are high in antioxidants, to help control inflammation in the body. They are also a good source of fibre, with half a cup of berries providing roughly the same amount of fibre as a slice of whole wheat bread.
Malley said the seconds that did not make the top grade were due to be developed into frozen products, which could be used all year round.
"This year, however, we are concentrating on building strong relationships with our partners in the Kaikohe Berryfruit development. There is a lot of work still to be done and we want to make sure that we deliver on that.''