Whangārei company Lynwood Avocado Nursery is branching out from its core business of propagating avocado trees with a large orchard venture adjacent to new reservoirs being developed on the northern Pouto peninsula.
Access to a sustainable water supply would unlock the potential of the area on the west coast of Northland, according to Lynwood owner Stephen Wade.
When asked why the company was involved in the 40ha orchard venture, Wade said "It's an exciting opportunity to open up a new avocado growing area in Northland."
"We are planning to use it as a demonstration orchard to show growers best practices and to offer a new orchard development and management service,'' he said.
Several other horticulture ventures were planned in the area.
Lynwood Avocado Nursery is a family business based at Maunu, Whangārei, that propagates about 140,000 Hass trees every year for the avocado industry.
Wade said Lynwood was the largest supplier of trees in New Zealand, supplying growers and the retail sector.
"Our expertise is recognised internationally and we assist several nurseries around the globe."
The company produced grafted seedling and clonal rootstock trees that were supplied to New Zealand orchards and retail nurseries.
"Propagating clonal rootstock avocados is a very precise and technical business. Even today there are only a handful of nurseries worldwide producing clonals."
The Kaipara Water Scheme was being developed by the Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust after studies showed the area had some of the best soils in New Zealand – all that was lacking was a reliable supply of water.
The earthworks for stage one of the first reservoir have now been completed by Northland contractor Progressive Earthmoving.
Known as Te Waihekeora, the reservoir is being lined by welded rubber sheets before being filled over winter to hold about 270,000 cubic metres of water. The first stage was planned to be operational by August .
The second stage would expand the water reservoir to be able to hold 3.2 million cubic metres of water, taking advantage of natural contours in the landscape. This would store enough water to irrigate 1000ha of horticultural land.
Lynwood CEO Stuart Pascoe said the new orchard would take advantage of all the latest electronics, including sensors at different depths to monitor nutrient delivery. Results would be regularly delivered to their mobile phones.
New technology allowed them to ensure nothing was wasted on excess fertiliser or water, which was good for the environment as well as saving money.
Wade said New Zealand was one of the coldest countries in the world to grow avocados, and that would minimise any effects of global warming compared with production in hotter areas.
"Hass is the main variety grown commercially and if temperatures are over 30 degrees Celsius, it is too hot for the trees.''
New Zealand growers had enjoyed many years of good prices of up to $30 a tray until the "terrible" prices of the past year. Orchardists were under intense pressure with poor returns, difficulties finding pickers and spiralling transport costs.
Despite this, the Lynwood team believed careful orchard management using the latest intensive planting methods was still profitable.
The new orchard near Te Kopuru would demonstrate how keeping trees pruned to a low height in intense plantings was more profitable because picking costs could be minimised by getting rid of the need for Hydralada mobile lifting platforms.
Wind affected tall trees more, resulting in low-quality fruit that was not suitable for export. The cost of picking was higher because Hydraladas were a major cost.
"The old days of large trees in orchards are numbered,'' Pascoe said.
Pine tree shelterbelts were being planted that would be kept trimmed to 8m tall, protecting the 3.5-m-high avocado trees within to keep wind damage to a minimum.
Lynwood customer and technical support officer Sarah Williamson said the three main pests affecting avocado orchards – leaf rollers, thrips and six-spotted mites – were all present at Te Kopuru but were all manageable.
Pascoe said a 45-tonne digger was being used to smash the sandstone pan to prepare the site for planting.
"Sometimes the pan is 5m under the soil, but we have to smash through it to ensure the trees have the drainage they need. It all looks a bit of a mess at the moment, but it will all be tidy soon.''
The new orchard would be planted with 18,000 trees – supplied from Lynwood's nursery -- starting in November.
Crops of about 12 tonnes a hectare were expected in year three, with full production of 20 tonnes a hectare in year four.