New Zealand may have been in lockdown but there has been no lockdown on generosity with more than $60,000 being donated to the Katikati Innovative Horticulture project, bringing the bank balance to an impressive $110,000.

"This is a wonderful boost to our project," says Hilary Johnson, Innovative Horticulture manager, Katikati College.

"Although the project has had significant pledges, it is exciting to see real money coming in."

The Katikati Innovative Horticulture Trust has been established to create a centre of excellence, based at Katikati College, bringing together educational skills and training providers under one umbrella to offer pathways into horticulture.

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Hilary says such a centre is urgently needed.

"A recent University of Waikato report forecast that the contribution of the kiwifruit industry alone to the Bay of Plenty's GDP will increase 135 per cent by 2030 to $2.04 billion and provide 14,329 new kiwifruit jobs.

"A large number of skilled horticultural jobs will require a trained workforce. Any employer in the industry will tell you it is hard to find staff with the expertise that they need."

A visit to Sean and Jo Carnachan's Western Orchards in Katikati.
A visit to Sean and Jo Carnachan's Western Orchards in Katikati.

To help the Katikati Innovative Horticulture project grow and build and establish a much-needed training facility, the support of orchardists, post-harvest operators and the wider industry is needed.

"Specifically, we are asking for financial donations. The project needs to raise $430,000 by September 2020 in order to build the facility and a further $125,000 for operational expenses.

"Government agencies have been approached for assistance, but this project, unfortunately, does not meet funding requirements. Therefore, we need the assistance of the horticulture industry and the wider community to help make the project a reality. To date, we have had good support but now is a critical time for the project and we are asking for your help," Hilary says.

AVOCO directors John Schnackenberg and Alistair Young invited AVOCO growers to pledge $100 per PPIN as an investment in growing a future orchard workforce, and a number of growers responded generously.

Two well-known local orchardists, Sean Carnachan and John Bourke, are playing an active part in helping the trust to raise funds and earlier in the year each contributed $2500 on behalf of their orchards.

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Students visit Trevelyan's Packhouse to learn about their sustainability initiatives.
Students visit Trevelyan's Packhouse to learn about their sustainability initiatives.

Just prior to lockdown, other orchardists were challenged to match this and Bay of Plenty packhouses were approached to contribute based on their size. There was a great response from a small number of orchardists and the trust is looking forward to hearing back from the packhouses.

The Department of Internal Affairs Lottery Community Fund has made a contribution toward operational costs, specifically the costs of delivering courses such as Growsafe, forklift operation, chainsaw use, workplace first aid and small machines operation.

Katikati's Saimone Lino on a NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc careers day.
Katikati's Saimone Lino on a NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc careers day.

A local resident and Rotarian has made a hugely generous donation of $30,000, with a promise of a further $120,000 spread over the next four years.

Supporters and seed-funders of the project since its inception, Zespri has donated $20,000 and says, "Zespri is proud to support a range of great initiatives in our communities, including the Katikati Horticulture Innovation Trust.

"Even during challenging times like we're facing at the moment, it's important to us that we stay true to our values and our purpose of helping people, communities and the environment thrive through the goodness of kiwifruit.

"We wish the trust all the very best as they continue to support the wider community through the Katikati College Innovative Horticulture Programme, and build a community facility to share skills, training and knowledge and hopefully encourage more young people to join our great industry."

New Zealand Fruitgrowers Charitable Trust approved, in early March, a grant of $25,000, subject to the Katikati Innovative Horticulture Trust confirming sufficient funding within the next 12 months to ensure that the project succeeds.

■ To make a donation go to: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/innovative-horticulture-is-the-future