Wednesday, 05 June 2024 09:25

Precision ag helps garner award

Written by  Nigel Malthus
The current custodians of the now six-generations Oakley dynasty are manager Robin Oakley, left, his father Graeme right, and his daughter April, who now manages the company’s marketing. The current custodians of the now six-generations Oakley dynasty are manager Robin Oakley, left, his father Graeme right, and his daughter April, who now manages the company’s marketing.

A not-so-humble spud has won another feather in the cap for a family horticulture business based at Southbridge, near Christchurch, with an award in the annual Life and Leisure Magazine Outstanding Food Producer Awards.

Oakley’s Premium Fresh Vegetables Golden Gourmet potatoes, which are sold in Oakley- branded boxes in supermarkets around the country, took out the Spirit of New Zealand Award, which specifically rewarded the sustainability of the producer.

It was one of 17 champions chosen from 355 entrants, with a vegan chocolate chosen as the supreme champion.

Oakley’s marketing manager April Oakley said The Spirit of New Zealand Award aimed to recognise a business with outstanding credentials for producing quality with a “considered” footprint.

She said the competition involved a three-day weekend of food writers, chefs and industry experts initially blind-tasting entries to judge them purely on the quality of the food.

Oakley described the Golden Gourmet as more of a waxy rather than a floury potato, but one suitable for both boiling and roasting.

The blind taste-testing was “as straightforward as possible,” she said.

“So, they don’t necessarily put it with a bunch of things. It’s just boiled and roasted, a little bit of salt, and then they taste it.

“Then from there the judges looked at the business – you put in some information about what you do, what your mission is, a bit more about sustainability practices and so on.”

She said Oakley’s farming practices included such things as extensive soil testing, and moisture probes. “Everything we do is precision agriculture.

“But also, a big part has been the fact that we power our site mostly by solar. We’ve got one of the largest solar farms in the South Island on our farm.”

Installed about two years ago, the solar farm powers the potato grading, washing and packing lines as well as the coolstores that allow them to store and supply potatoes year-round.

Also producing pumpkins, broccoli, beetroot and onions, the company won three Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2020 (second only to the overall regional winner) for excellence in soil management, scientific monitoring and innovation. They have been early adopters of technologies such as farm-wide moisture probes to forecast irrigation requirements, and extensive soil and plant nutrient testing to calibrate fertiliser applications for maximum quality and yield.

Manager Robin Oakley said then that it was all part of a common-sense approach, putting in technology that stacks up on commercial returns.

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