Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Rockit plants flag in South Island  

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First 20 hectares of little apples now growing in Canterbury, with plans to expand.
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The first Rockit apples are now growing in the South Island as the company behind the brand looks to expand its geographical footprint.

An initial 20 hectares of apples has been planted in Canterbury, with plans to expand to more than 100ha in the region over the next three years.

Rockit Global chair John Loughlin said horticulture has the potential to transform the rural Canterbury landscape in the next 20 years.

“Growing apples uses significantly less water and requires markedly lower nitrogen inputs than either dairy or arable production and, as a perennial crop, it doesn’t require annual cultivation,” he said.

Rockit general manager commercial Tom Lane said a key part of Rockit’s strategy is geographical diversification. 

“Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne remain home for Rockit, but we are looking to ensure the long-term resilience of our growing footprint. We are using climate scenario modelling to identify new growing regions and see Canterbury becoming a prime region for horticultural production in New Zealand in coming years.” 

Rockit’s first South Island partner is Turley Farms. 

“Murray and Margaret Turley have a well-deserved reputation as excellent growers at the forefront of innovation and diversification. We are proud to have them as our first commercial partner in the South Island,” Lane said.

The Turleys have been significant and innovative producers in Canterbury for more than 50 years, transforming low productivity, dry crop and stock properties into high-value vegetable and arable land.

In 2012, they bought into Dairy Holdings, which runs 63 dairy farms and 20 support blocks and, the following year, created Farmers Mill, which produces all the flour for Griffins NZ. The state-of-the-art facility allows local growers to mill their own wheat. Onion processing plant Southern Packers is another of their ventures. 

In 2021, Turley agronomist Dominic Cosgrove visited Hawke’s Bay to study the viability of planting apples on a Turley property in Rangitata. The resulting trial orchard, planted under the 2D system with dripline irrigation, gave the Turleys the confidence to align with Rockit.

The joint venture between Rockit and Turley Farms has seen an initial 20ha of Rockit apples planted this year. The parties are looking for a third partner to join them to take the total development to at least 100ha over the next three years.  

Turley Farms Ltd chief executive Murray Turley said the company began exploring the potential for growing pip fruit in South Canterbury two and a half years ago. 

“During this exploration, Rockit apples emerged as a standout opportunity, offering excellent eating characteristics, a unique consumer proposition and brand, great growing support and premium returns for growers.”

Winner of the Supreme Award at the 2022 New Zealand International Business Awards, Rockit is now selling into more than 30 different territories, including China, India, Vietnam, the United States and United Arab Emirates. 

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