Having a fulltime workforce is not usually associated with orchard work.

However, Whangarei kiwifruit orchard managers Total Orchard Management Services maintains a fulltime staff of 12, with some workers who have been with the company for 30 years.

While numbers grow at peak times, with another 40 casual workers called in, it is the core workforce that is a real asset to the business.

This wealth of experience has proved especially helpful for 24-year-old Emily Crum, who has taken over managing about 18 orchards in the Whangarei district for her parents Mike and Cathy Crum.

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Emily Crum graduated from Massey University with a degree in earth and environmental science but finding jobs in Australia in her chosen field proved difficult. So she decided to follow her family's background in orchard management and got work as a cadet with Eastpack, a large packhouse operating nationally.

She spent about 10 months at Opotiki and about two-and-a-half years at Katikati and rose through the ranks of orchard management. Emily says the organic orchards are labour-intensive which helps with the recipe for creating fulltime employment.

"To keep our orchards in good condition, we have to do a lot of spraying. What we spray is less toxic but we have to do it more regularly. The workers like it too because they don't have to use all the hot protective gear needed for more toxic sprays," she said.
While Psa virus has affected some orchards in Northland, she says so much research has been done that orchardists are well versed in managing it.

There are other potential threats such as the brown marmorated stink bug which, if it was to become established in New Zealand, would be particularly challenging for organic orchards.

"We can't just blast bugs with chemicals to get rid of them."

In Northland, almost all orchards are planted in gold kiwifruit and the organic fruit develops a little later.

"A lot of my work is making sure the growers are happy and that the workers are well organised.".

She admits to a few nervous moments at first, but now she has settled in well and is sharing a few of her own ideas.

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"I've had a chance to work with about 20 other orchard managers when I was training so I've tried to pick up the best ideas along the way.

"Some of the staff here thought some of my suggestions were nuts, as they were so used to the ways that my father had taught them. But I have respect for what they can teach me and I can teach them too."

The core workers tend to come from family groups from around Whangarei. When casual workers are needed, they will call in their friends and family to make up the numbers required. This works well for the business, as less time for training is required.

The large Crum family is well known in the horticulture industry in Northland, and Emily now looks after the orchards of her grandfather Bill and her uncle Richard.

She regards that as a real privilege.

Her fiance, Aaron Mallett, is now also part of the business.

The couple moved back to Whangarei in March this year and have bought their own orchard in Otaika Valley from Emily's parents.

Ever competitive, Emily says her goal with that orchard is to beat the production of her father's management of the property.

"Now he's got motivated again to try and beat me too," she said.