The Overseas Investment Office has approved a $38 million proposal by Craigmore Sustainables to develop a huge kiwifruit orchard outside Kerikeri.
The company has bought 137ha of established dairy farmland on Wiroa Rd, near Bay of Islands airport, for conversion, saying the investment would increase local kiwifruit production by more than a third and create 29 fulltime-equivalent jobs.
The OIO has also approved Craigmore investments in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, where it will spend $52m developing apple orchards, creating almost 100 fulltime-equivalent jobs and a $30m boost in exports.
Craigmore Sustainables chief executive Che Charteris said the investments were part of the company's Permanent Crop business, which was expanding and diversifying horticultural developments into key central and northern regions.
"New Zealand's horticulture sector is a world leader in many areas, with exports growing at 7 per cent per annum for the past 20 years, bringing with it increased regional development and employment," he said.
"Our focus is to build the best New Zealand orchards producing top-selling fruits, including kiwifruit, apples, wine grapes, plus emerging crops such as cherries and avocados."
Mr Charteris said access to capital was a barrier to realising the full potential of horticulture. Through its Permanent Crop Partnership, Craigmore was building more than $200m worth of horticultural businesses, many of them involving the conversion of pastoral land.
"One of our core sustainability values is right land, right use. New Zealand has vast areas of land that are well suited to grazing livestock, but there are also some areas that should be converted to horticulture and forestry," he said.
Craigmore still had around $50m to allocate, and was looking for minority investments in existing horticultural businesses, to help them grow.
"This is helping diversify the economy and create significant gains for regional communities as well as helping address soil and water challenges, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Mr Charteris added.
"With the Kerikeri land for example, we'll be planting riparian areas around the orchards, with indigenous species, to provide a buffer to waterways from sediment, nutrient and other runoff, and to provide corridors for wildlife movement. We are generating 10 times the benefits by farming only half of the land."
The company had strong support from the Far North District Council as well as local growers, packagers and exporters, who could build their businesses alongside the new development.
The news was certainly welcomed by the Kerikeri Fruitgrowers' Association, president Rick Curtis saying it would be good for the industry and good for the district.
"Craigmore is a substantial, professional player. They'll bring a lot of skill and expertise, along with revenue and employment," he said, adding the company's long-term investment reflected "very bullish" prices and confidence in the industry's future.
Mr Charteris said ultimately, at a time of growing consumer demands for sustainable products and wider societal standards for managing farmland, Craigmore Sustainables' mission was to support New Zealand's reputation as a premium food and fibre supplier in a way that spread the benefits across the regions.
Craigmore Sustainables, established by two New Zealand farmers in 2008, has a mix of dairy, grazing, forestry and orchard properties totalling 15,000ha across the North and South islands. Craigmore Permanent Crop Limited Partnership was set up in 2016 as vehicle for overseas firms keen to invest in apples, wine and kiwifruit. Ownership is split between Hong Kong, Germany and the UK but operations are managed by Craigmore Sustainables in New Zealand.