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The orchard has only been in development for two years, but good soil and sunshine hours have combined to produce excellent growth rates, says Ngāi Tahu Farming commercial development manager Ben Giesen.
“This has gone better than we thought,” he told Rural News.
The 2ha orchard is in the Balmoral block, the former state forest bordering the Hurunui River, on the south side of the Culverden Basin, which was transferred to Ngāi Tahu as part of its 1998 treaty settlement.
The 9500ha block is now being progressively converted to farmland, mostly beef, but Giesen said Ngāi Tahu also wanted alternatives. The iwi commissioned Plant and Food to look at the area’s climate and soil types and present some options.
However, the company went ahead with the trial because they “just wanted to put some stuff in the ground and see what happens”.
The project, Ngāi Tahu’s first venture into horticulture, started two years ago with shelterbelts of Italian alders and poplars, fencing and irrigation. Apricots, peaches, olives, and nuts were planted in the first year “basically because they were available,” Giesen says.
The feeling was just to “get on with it”.
There are also some blueberries.
“It’s a quite a mix, and that was part of the appeal of doing it,” he added.
“We didn’t want to go too narrow; we were getting told what they think was going to work but we thought ‘Well, that’s great. Let’s do it and see for ourselves’.”
Most of the site is now planted in apples and that appears to be where the venture is headed. The apples, planted last August, grew well. All varieties, bar one, hit the top end of a hoped-for range of 500-800mm growth, Giesen said.
“That’s very exciting because if we’d got anywhere in between we were going to be happy enough, but we constantly got growth rates like that across these varieties.
“We’ve been told this is as good as anywhere in the country.”
The varieties include Jazz, Envy, Galaxy and Lady in Red – all good export varieties enjoying good returns, Giesen said.
“From a market point of view, from a returns point of view at the moment, it’s quite hard to go past apples.”
Turners and Growers provided the trees and will also handle marketing as the venture moves into production.
FruitFed and AgFirst are providing technical support. More trees have been ordered for the 2021 season.
• See more about the exciting developments happening in the NZ horticulture sector in the latest issue of Hort News, inserted in this issue of Rural News.