Sunday, December 3, 2023

Iwi catch the horticulture wave

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Planting has begun on a large avocado orchard in Maori ownership near Kaitaia, in the Far North, while debate continues over the sustainability of irrigation to keep that new development and many others in the region alive and productive.
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Ngai Takoto’s farming business, Rakau Ora, has started planting a 20ha orchard in the northern Sweetwater district, west of Awanui.

Further planting of 40ha is planned over the next two years and 200ha in total in a decade, Ngai Takoto chief executive Rangitane Marsden said.

The orchard would be a means to achieve the use of Treaty of Waitangi settlement assets to build a strong economic base for the people, he said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is a partner with Ngai Takoto, providing advice and expertise through the Maori Agribusiness Pathway to Increased Productivity Programme, now numbering 70 projects.

“We are delighted the iwi is entering this high-value food sector as an excellent example of promoting whanau development,” MPI Maori agribusiness director Andrew McConnell said.

Iwi member Clair Tamati has been appointed trainee orchard manager.

Rakau Ora board member Murray Jamieson said avocados have the potential to do for Kaitaia what kiwifruit did for Te Puke in terms of the boost to the regional economy, employment and education.

Ngai Takoto has harboured its funds and resources since settlement in 2012 for the horticultural opportunities and is not going to borrow for the development, he said.

The orchard development is taking place towards the southern end of a 55km long region of the southern half of the Aupouri peninsula, stretching between Kaitaia and Ahipara in the south and Ngataki and Te Kao in the north.

Much of the 100km long peninsula has been returned to Maori ownership over the past decade in Treaty settlements for four of the six Muriwhenua iwi, namely Ngai Takoto, Ngati Kuri, Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa.

Ngati Kuri led the way into avocado orchard ownership with the 2012 purchase of the existing Waimarama Orchard at Ngataki, a 300ha property with 60ha planted in more than 20,000 trees.

Neighbouring iwi Te Aupouri at Te Kao is seeking one of the largest water consents among 24 applicants for water rights from the huge Aupouri aquifer, covering 80,000ha.

It intends converting part of a 260ha beef farm into fruit growing and market gardening. 

Te Rawara is another applicant for a large volume, from 12 proposed well sites in the southern district, on the west coast between Waipapakauri and Ahipara.

Recently it bought the Bells Produce market gardening and mandarin growing business at Pukepoto, covering 200ha and employing up to 100 people at peak times.

While the Aupouri aquifer is one of the largest in New Zealand the demand for water from large avocado plantings is alleged to threaten the water quality in future from possible seawater intrusion.

The first wave of planting was in the 1990s and early 2000s, centred mainly around Houhora towards the north of the aquifer.

Chief among them was the giant King Avocado on 160ha and now containing 100,000 trees and the operating company, Valic NZ, is among the latest applicants for more water.

Another wave of very large plantings resulted in the Motutangi-Waiharara Users Group of 17 applicants in 2017 gaining rights for 2m cubic metres a year that could be progressively drawn out subject to water level monitoring in bores.

Considerable local feeling has been generated by the widespread land use change, including posts and shade cloth, and the presumption of newcomers that water will be available to make fruit production viable.

The new group of 24 applicants for a collective 6.2m cubic metres annually has been notified by the Northland Regional Council and the period for submissions from existing water users has now closed.

The council has said the water takes will have no more than minor effects on the aquifer, based on hydrological advice that rainfall recharging is estimated to be 374m cubic metres annually.

Local objectors say the risks include the drying up of shallow bores, that wetlands could be adversely affected, including rare wildlife species, and that climate change could disrupt the recharging.

Environment Court hearings will be held soon.

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