Tuesday, 27 February 2024 14:55

Taylor-made for recovery

Written by  Peter Burke
Kelvin Taylor (right) and son Cameron inside their new packhouse in Hawke’s Bay. Kelvin Taylor (right) and son Cameron inside their new packhouse in Hawke’s Bay.

A year ago, Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked havoc at family-owned Taylors orchard and packhouse in Hawke's Bay.

Apple trees were under water, covered in silt or both. Their newly-built state of the art packhouse, crammed with the latest automation and robotics, had half a metre of muddy sludge running through it, destroying all the equipment.

But a year on, the Taylors have apples on their trees and miraculously repaired the packhouse to its former glory. A week ago, the family hosted a function to celebrate this achievement. The guests included Finance Minister Nicola Willis and representatives of Apples and Pears NZ and the companies that got the packhouse up and running in less than a year.

The family have been operating in Hawke's Bay for more than 100 years and during the season pack up to 250 tonnes of apples a day (that's 2000 apples per minute) for export and employ 300 people, including RSE workers, to pick and pack the fruit. The present company, Taylor Corp, was set up in 1995 by Kelvin Taylor and wife Lynette.

For the Taylors the drama started the morning Cyclone Gabrielle struck when Cameron Taylor, son of Kelvin, looked out the window and couldn't see any apple trees. They were covered in water.

"These were old apple trees - five metres high - so I knew we were in trouble," Cameron told Rural News. "We quickly got the family together and went to Dad's place which was on higher ground," he says. 

The next few days were traumatic as he helped rescue his RSE staff and, working with helicopter pilot Geoff Keighley, plucked close to 150 flood-stricken people from roofs of their homes during the height of the disaster. His focus was on others, not his own business.

Flying over his own family orchard, Cameron could only gaze in disbelief at what he saw. "I could just see the top of the cab of a truck and also flooding around the orchard, including the packhouse," he says.

For 72-year-old Kelvin Taylor who set up this expansive operation and who's lived on the property all his life, the sight was devastating. He bought one of the blocks when he was just 18 years of age and now all his lifetime of hard work and dreams had been shattered. But again, his focus was on his staff and making sure they were safe and housed.

"We lost about forty-five hectares of apple trees out of a total of 4500 hectares, but we have got new plantings that will help us through," he says.

Despite the trauma of the cyclone, Kelvin and son Cameron quickly decided to rebuild the operation at all costs - to the extent that Cameron and his family are still living with his father while his own house remains wrecked.

Cameron says he felt he owed it to his staff and the wider industry to get the business up and running as quickly as possible rather than focus on his own personal situation.

The Rebuild

When the Taylors finally got to the packhouse after the cyclone subsided, they were greeted with an ugly mess of sludge and their new equipment lying at crazy angles.

They pumped 20 million litres of muck out of the shed and started the task of the rebuild. The building itself was sound, but the insulation in the ceiling had gone mouldy and had to be replaced.

Cameron Taylor says his father realised early they could not do everything, so they put the rebuild of the packhouse in the hands of one of their staff, giving him a free hand to complete the project. The plus side to this was that the packhouse was modern and the equipment in it was good.

Taylor Packhouse FBTW

The new Taylor Corp packhouse.

"So, we simply decided to replicate this, which saved time and money because all the design work was done. The result is we now have an amazing packhouse which includes robotic forklifts and packing machines," he says

In just 12 months, the Taylors, with help from great people and friends, are back in business. Heading into the official celebration, Kelvin Taylor admitted to being a bit nervous but also pleased and proud of what has been achieved.

"Never doubted it would happen. I have been in the business for 56 years and I was never going to let this stop us from carrying on," he says.

Special Guest

A special guest at the re-opening of the packhouse was Finance Minister Nicola Willis. She described the reconstruction of the Taylors packhouse as a milestone and something very touching for her.

“I was here a year ago with Cameron and the only way we could get here was by helicopter. The place was covered in mud and the devastation on Cameron’s face was just palpable, because you could sense his fear of the job ahead and whether this incredible packhouse would ever be rebuilt. So now to see the progress… and see it up and running again, it is almost miraculous,” she says.

Willis says the cyclone is one the biggest events in the history of NZ because it has devastated the lives of so many people. She says the agricultural industry was impacted terribly and so seeing that people have taken the effort to rebuild so that industry can get back on its feet is tremendous.

Willis says the Government is committed to helping fund the cost of removing silt and remediating the land, rehousing people and supporting the infrastructure rebuild. “Everyone can be very confident that our Government will back Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti for a full recovery,” she says.

More like this

Weather wreaks havoc with bottom lines

Weather events like Cyclone Gabrielle that hit over one year ago have landed two of the country's biggest fruit and vegetable traders with massive trading losses.

Weather wreaks havoc with balance sheets

Weather events like Cyclone Gabrielle that hit over one year ago have landed two of the country’s biggest fruit and vegetable traders with massive trading losses.

Featured

Farmers fined for cattle abuse

A Waikato cattle farming family have been fined $23,000 for failing to provide sufficient food and care for their animals, resulting in more than half a dozen animal deaths.

App trial yields promising results

An initial trial of an app, funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, has demonstrated significant results in reducing drench inputs during a small-scale study.

National

Back to the tractor!

Alliance Group chair Murray Taggart is looking forward to spending more time on farm as he steps down after a…

Machinery & Products

PM opens new Power Farming facility

Morrinsville based Power Farming Group has launched a flagship New Zealand facility in partnership with global construction manufacturer JCB Construction.

AGTEK and ARGO part ways

After 12 years of representing the Landini and McCormick brands in New Zealand, Bay of Plenty-based AGTEK and the brands’…

100 years of Farmall Tractors

Returning after an enforced break, the Wheat and Wheels Rally will take place on the Lauriston -Barhill Road, North-East of…

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound

Crazy

OPINION: Your canine crusader was truly impressed by the almost unanimous support given by politicians of all stripes in Parliament…

More!

OPINION: As this old mutt suggested in the last issue, MPI looks a very good candidate for some serious public…

» Connect with Rural News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter