Peanuts, avocados, hops, soya beans, chickpeas, dairy goats and meat chickens are among the potential agricultural developments in the Kaipara district.
Kaipara District Council mayor Dr Jason Smith said there are huge opportunities for the rich soils of the Kaipara district.
The potentially lucrative crops emerged in a comprehensive 200-page Kaipara Kai report, commissioned by the Kaipara District Council. Kaipara Kai is part of KDC's larger Kickstart programme, with funding support from the Provincial Growth Fund and the New Zealand Transport Agency.
He said the high-class Kaipara soils are second only to the elite soils of Pukekohe, south of Auckland.
"We have 6000km of catchment draining into the Kaipara Harbour from as far as the Hikurangi Swamp.
"Our soils are outstanding and for generations we have been growing food really well.
"This project is about finding out what we can do better and taking our food production to the next level,'' he said.
Smith said as Pukekohe land continued to come under pressure from encroaching urbanisation, Kaipara needed to be ready to step up its role of being an important food bowl for the country.
He pointed out that the tip of Pouto Point is the closest part of Northland to Auckland. Upgrading roads and wharves to boost this proximity to Helensville and Auckland city is an important key in the overall economic development project.
Smith said key goals for the project include increasing tourism to the district and Northland region, create employment opportunities, increase opportunities in horticulture and aquaculture, improve roads for more reliable routes and safer journeys and increase wharf infrastructure for communities to connect and enjoy.
"It's also really important that we develop real opportunities in a sustainable way to look after the land for the future.
"We'll be encouraging fewer chemicals and a regenerative style of agriculture. We need to adapt for climate change," he said.
As part of the project, the KDC has contracted Northland Inc to set up a Kaipara Kai hub at Ruawai.
Managing the Kaipara Kai Hub is Matt Punter with the support of Lana Kennett, who has experience in environmental sustainability, marketing and social sciences.
Punter has a background as a research and development associate for the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research in the Hawke's Bay, particularly in horticulture and post-harvest technology.
He had recently moved to Northland with his wife and was delighted to take part in the project, which he has quickly become passionate about.
He said the Kaipara already produced most of the kumara sold in New Zealand, a market that was protected from imports by the taonga status of the crop.
"Crops like peanuts would not have this special status, so it will be important to develop a post-harvest infrastructure to build up an industry.
"There is already interest from peanut-butter processors to buy local crops. Peanut butter is made from the seconds so there is potential in developing a market for confectionery and quality nuts," Punter said.
"All of that will require infrastructure with the potential to create jobs."
He said different crops had different harvesting and storage requirements so it would be important to develop a coordinated approach to crops that needed similar equipment and post-harvesting storage requirements. For example, soya beans and chickpeas were crops requiring similar equipment.
Punter said the area's subtropical climate and rich soils allowed many more possibilities including red onions, baby beetroots and even coffee. "It's not impossible."
The Kaipara Kai project aims to support all aspects of land use, not just horticulture, he said.
He is particularly keen to see Kaipara growers grow their businesses and put them in touch with industry links that can help them add value to their produce.
The Kaipara Kai Hub is open during business hours from Monday to Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday by appointment to provide support to anyone in the district wanting advice on using their land to its best potential.
The Hub provided meeting space and provided an interactive work environment where people could explore possible options.
"There has already been a lot of interest, with more than 200 enquiries from landowners. There's been a noticeable desire for this type of service," Punter said.
"All are looking at diversification of land use. People are really excited about it."