Whanganui may become a significant kiwifruit growing region in the wake of plans to convert up to 150ha of farmland near the city into kiwifruit orchards.
Kiwifruit industry grower and post-harvest operator, Apata Group Ltd, is looking to buy land from existing landowners to convert the 150ha into new orchards in the Whanganui and south Taranaki region, a move that is expected to add around 1.5 million additional kiwifruit trays for export every year.
Apata brand and communications manager Dave Freeman says the company is interested in purchasing from farmers who may be looking to free up capital or who are keen to consider options for diversifying the use of their land.
"Kiwifruit grows well in that area," he says. "We already have several orchards in the region, the largest of which is a 21ha block we bought from a dairy farmer recently and we are now looking for more suitable land."
Apata handles around 10 per cent of New Zealand's kiwifruit exports – an amount equivalent to 15 million trays annually. It harvests and processes the fruit through its pack house and cool storage facilities in Te Puke and Katikati in the Bay of Plenty, all of which is then supplied to Mt Maunganui-based international kiwifruit marketing company Zespri for export.
Freeman says once land has been purchased Apata will form syndicates to own the orchards, develop them then grow, process and supply the kiwifruit to Zespri for sale on behalf of the landowners.
He says some farmers may want to simply sell off parcels of land, others may wish to remain a partner in one of the orchard developments while there is also the option for landowners to diversify their revenue streams and develop kiwifruit on their land – something Apata can facilitate for them.
"We're flexible and happy to work with landowners on the option that works best for them," he says. "Each option should produce a good outcome for the farmers as they will either sell land at a good value or, as an owner or part-owner of an orchard, realise a better return on investment once the orchard is producing than grazing, dairy, cropping or other uses do.
"And as Apata is primarily a processor, our plant utilisation will improve as a result, so it is a win-win," Freeman says.
As well as its packing and cool store operations Apata offers support on all aspects of orchard production and is heavily involved in the development, leasing and management of many operations across New Zealand.
"We have over 30 years of experience and through a commitment to continuous development and improvement we have remained on top of a fast-moving industry at the same time as rewarding our growers with outstanding returns."
Although most kiwifruit orchards are based in the Bay of Plenty, there are increasing volumes being produced in Gisborne, Northland and Hawkes Bay.
Freeman says the Whanganui/South Taranaki region is poised for growth as it is well suited to growing and has supplied export kiwifruit for decades. "There is a lot of flat land, which is great, the soils are ideal as they are rich and free-draining suitable and overall climate is favourable.
In fact, the first kiwifruit grown in New Zealand was in Whanganui in the early 1900s."
He says once the land has been secured it will take about four to five years for full production to be achieved. The kiwifruit growing season begins with pruning in winter while budburst, flowering and fruit set occur in spring and early summer. Harvesting begins in autumn and usually takes place between March and June.
Landowners interested in meeting to assess their land and talking with Apata about their options should contact the company's chief financial officer Eugene Crosby at 027 646 7854 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information go to www.apata.co.nz