Introducing Hauiti blueberries
Employment opportunities and a huge economic boost are among the benefits of a new horticultural project under way on the flats at Tolaga Bay.
Work is well advanced on establishing a four hectare blueberry farm for Hauiti Berries, a partnership arrangement between the Hauiti Incorporation and Hold Co, a subsidiary of the Ngati Porou rununga.
They are working with Miro, a New Zealand-based company with technological expertise in the blueberry industry and BerryCo, the licensed holder and sales marketing company.
Hauiti Inc owns Titirangi Station, Iwinui Station, Pukemaewa Station, Coyne Farm and the Tolaga Bay Holiday Park. It is one of seven Maori Incorporations that have an 80 to 90 percent common shareholders within the tribal rohe of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti Iwi, that stretches from Gisborne to Tokomaru Bay.
Incorporation chairman Wayne Amaru says its business includes sheep and beef, forestry accommodation and now horticulture with the berries.
“Diversification is the strength of our business,” he said. “The blueberry orchard is an exciting mix.”
Construction and operations manager Steve Phelps started on the four hectare project in June last year with planning and resource consent applications.
Construction of the first hectare tunnel house began on January 14, using local labour. The first block was double-bunked (planted) so the plants will be well established in time for the completed second hectare, tunnel block.
The construction of the second block is under way and due to be completed by December this year, the third hectare by April 2020 and the last block by December 2020.
One of the challenges facing the project will be getting a consistent and sustainable labour force with a requirement of 30 to 40 personnel to pick the fruit, from September, once the blocks are in full production. The bulk of the fruit will come through in October and November and finish in December.
Depending on the crop load, this year there will be work for seven to 10 people to harvest the first crop then prune the orchard.
‘The sky is the limit’ — Hauiti chairman“We are looking to employ as many locals as possible and hopefully create a consistent local workforce,” Mr Phelps said.
“Given the talk of further horticultural plans for the district, our harvest times will fall outside other harvesting times and this could lead to further work opportunity for the local people.
“Our blueberry harvest requirements, it’s not hard work — the workforce we require will carry five kilogram buckets when full, so it will suit the older generation, and we can be flexible regarding work for solo mums and dads, they can drop the kids off at school, start at 9am and leave at 2pm to pick them up by 3pm.”
Wet weather will not be a factor as the staff will be working in 4m high tunnel houses away from any adverse weather, Mr Phelps said.
The technology set up to grow the plants is huge. Everything relating to the growing and maintaining of the plants is computer-controlled.
The plants are grown in individual 30 litre pots and the system monitors and controls the amount of water and nutrients required.
This is fed to each plant through an individual dripper system, with long catch trays, situated under the pots, returning excess water/nutrients into a settlement pond to be recycled.
Water is a major component in this business. The main source comes from springs on incorporation land.
“We also have the added advantage of being able to capture the rainwater run-off from the tunnel houses this is channelled into and stored in the holding pond, for future use.”
The operational area includes water tanks and mixing tanks, situated next to the tunnels.
At the heart of the complex a container “office” houses the computer, pumps and controls.
The orchard manager enters in the various levels of nutrients and water he requires the plants to get and the computer takes over from there.
The computer system is linked to Mr Phelps’ phone. He receives notification of any variations to the system, and can immediately react to correct any problem if he is off-site.
For the pollination of the orchard Hauiti Berries are using bumble bees.
Bees are bought from a Hawke’s Bay breeder and about 10 boxes a hectare are required.
“We believe bumble bees are more industrious and work harder,” Mr Phelps said.
Aside from harvest, other job opportunities exist with plant weeding and pruning.
“The tunnels are open at each end for air flow to assist with pest control and venting in the summer. The whole tunnel complex is covered with mesh netting, and will eventually make the orchard totally bird-proof.”
Before starting this project Hauiti board members. along with Mr Phelps, visited a well-established blueberry orchard in Te Teko and were very impressed with the professional set up.
Mr Amaru said the possibility of creating jobs for the area was another factor the incorporation considered when entertaining the idea originally.
The Wi Pere Trust is trialling a small area of blueberries, and other horticultural ventures like kiwifruit are being looked at in the area.
“I believe other ventures and similar joint investment opportunities exist for all of our businesses, be they Maori, private, tribal or iwi-based. The sky is the limit to what we can achieve together. But, we must respect each other’s autonomy,” Mr Amaru said.