A Whangārei family growing raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and green and gold kiwifruit have won the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
The Malley family of Patrick, his wife Rebecca and their children Austin, 4, and Eloise, 1, and Patrick's parents Dermott and Linzi own and operate their diversified horticulture business, Maungatapere Berries, west of Whangārei.
Raspberries are the biggest berry crop, processed through a packhouse on the orchard, and sold domestically under their own Maungatapere Berries brand along with blackberries. They also sell blueberries under the Eureka brand.
The kiwifruit canopy extends over 16.25ha, including 3.36ha of Gold 3 under cover, to target high-taste, high-production, early season fruit.
Growing green and gold kiwifruit and three types of berries hydroponically has extended the harvest season to nine months and provided work for 45 permanent employees and up to 180 seasonal pickers.
The awards judges said employee management was exceptional.
"They have invested heavily and with compassion to provide opportunities and fair treatment for staff," the judges said.
They said the innovative use of technology underpinning all aspects of the business was inspiring and had facilitated its rapid growth. Business resilience was also at the forefront of the Malleys' decision-making.
"They have minimised risk with different crops and harvest dates aimed at maximising returns while creating labour efficiencies. Attention to detail is working to achieve exceptional results."
Although operating as a conventional kiwifruit orchard, the Malley family have introduced a wide range of biological and organic pest and disease controls, as well as innovative biodiversity measures to support natural activities on the orchard.
Comfrey has been planted in the weed strip area underneath the kiwifruit vines, which traditionally would be heavily sprayed with glyphosate to control weeds. Its long tap roots bring up nitrogen and other minerals, dying leaves support the build-up of organic material and the bright-blue flowers assist bees during pollination as a nectar food source and directional guide.
Other plantings of tree lucerne, apple mint, chamomile, lavender, hebe, rosemary, borage and forget-me-nots encourage and feed beneficial insects and natural predators. Cabbage white butterflies are scared off with home-made scarecrows, and pheromone traps are used to disrupt raspberry bud moth and tropical army worm. Predator mites, such as persimilis and cucumeris, are bought in and the natural predator orius helps control thrips and mites.
Compost is applied at 20 tonnes/ha annually under kiwifruit and the majority of nutrients are applied through fertigation instead of solid fertiliser to eliminate run-off issues.
A 3.5ha irrigation dam and lake adjacent to the property in which the Malleys have 66 per cent share provides natural habitats for multiple bird species and water for the kiwifruit drippers and micro-sprinklers.
Berry vines rooted in bags of coir substrate are grown hydroponically sourced from the Maungatapere Water Scheme, stored and filtered and provided with nutrients and controlled electronically.
The rainwater collected from 5ha of tunnel houses is directed into multiple soakage holes to feed into the natural underground aquifer.
A large expansion of the area under berries which is now underway will feature a two million litre ground storage dam for electricity and irrigation.
As well as the supreme award, the Malleys won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, Bayleys People in Primary Sector Award, Massey University Innovation Award, Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award and WaterForce Integrated Management Award.
More details about the awards and about specific awards criteria can be found at www.nzfeatrust.org.nz. The Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards Field Day is May 9. For more information, keep an eye on www.nzfeatrust.org.nz.