Whanganui dairy farmers Jarrod and Holly Murdoch will soon be turning 20 hectares of their Waitotara land into a kiwifruit orchard.
They're part of a burgeoning kiwifruit growing industry in the region, which includes Mangamahu grower David Wells who is now adding 16.5ha to his existing 3.5.
These projects, along with another 20ha of kiwifruit planting in the Whanganui region, have resulted in New Zealand company Apata Group Limited, which harvests, packs and stores fruit, signing on to provide infrastructure and oversee the growing of these crops.
Wells, who began growing kiwifruit in 1978, said Apata's involvement, as well as support from local investors "triggered it all".
"We've been dealing with them [Apata] for 10 or 15 years, so they knew the potential here," Wells said.
"They're the experts we're relying on, and they believe that this area is a particularly good site.
"For them to put in infrastructure they really need a minimum for 60ha, so between me, Jarrod and Holly, and another site, they've got their 60ha."
The plan involved all the orchards growing green kiwifruit, Wells said.
"The plant variety right to grow gold kiwifruit is owned by Zespri, and the option of the right to grow is selling for around $400,000 a hectare.
"The quickest way to establish gold is to cut over a green orchard, so significant areas of green are going out of production.
"I believe that green kiwifruit grows especially well in this area and at the moment production of it is going down, so we're hoping to take advantage of that by filling a gap."
Jarrod Murdoch said he and Holly had been looking to "diversify" after 20 years of dairy farming.
"With the threat of Covid-19 I think that growing food one of the best things to do, and it was one of the only things that didn't really get affected too much," Murdoch said.
"My motto at the moment is growing food to feed the people, as opposed to feeding the animals to feed the people."
"At the dairy farm there are a few environmental issues we have to deal with as well, so it makes sense to take some of the cows out of the equation."
Wells said the standard yield for green kiwifruit per hectare was 10,000-12,000 trays.
"A tray is about 3.6kg, but after that it gets very complicated, because there are so many different pack types.
"It's not uncommon to get green yields of 16,000 trays, so that's what we'll be aiming for, especially with the expertise and a lot of technology we're putting in with irrigation and things.
Holly Murdoch said it would cost about $200,000 per hectare to convert their land to kiwifruit orchards, including the value of the land itself.
"An attractive point for Apata was that they want to keep their pack houses busy for longer periods of the year, so that's why they've branched out to Gisborne and then down here," she said.
"They're hoping to pick fruit there first, and then here later in the year.
"Jarrod and I have employed between 10 to 20 people for the Mangamahu conversion, and we'll need another 20, if not more, for our conversion at Waitotara.
"Many of those people lost jobs and income because of Covid-19, and hopefully this new venture can provide people with employment in the future."
If more kiwifruit orchards were planted in the Whanganui region, the biggest issue would be finding labour, Wells said.
"We might even need to use the RSE [Recognised Seasonal Employer] scheme if we can't find people in the local area."
"Years ago I had a holiday in Vanuatu and I talked to a local there who said that being able to have family members come over to New Zealand and do this sort of work made an enormous difference to their standard of living."
Wells said the Mangamahu farm used Whanganui based Sharp As Linehaul to transport kiwifruit, who had been "fantastic".
"They'll leave a truck here during the day while our pickers are working and the driver will turn up in the afternoon, strap it all down and head to the Bay of Plenty, and there'll be another truck there the next morning.
"At the moment we're doing five unit loads a season, and we're hoping to go to 35 when we're in full production."