Friday, April 12, 2024

Small footprint but many jobs

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Pioneering pathways in hydroponic growing of soft berries in Northland have taken the Malley family’s horticultural business a long way from where it started only eight years ago.
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In 2011 orchardist, industry representative and company director Dermott Malley, his wife Linzi and their son Patrick and his wife Rebecca landed at Maungatapere, near Whangarei.

Dermott and Linzi were former Hawke’s Bay growers of apples, pears and summerfruit.

Patrick was a young entrepreneur in Auckland and Rebecca a veterinarian.

They were looking for a new horticultural venture that could employ both generations and those to come.

What they found was a substantial kiwifruit and avocado orchard blessed with good soils, good shelter, excellent climate and community water supplies.

Since then the kiwifruit has been converted to 7.5ha of uncovered and 3.3ha of covered SunGold for the increased Psa-V resistance along with a legacy 3.5ha of Hayward Green.

The trial covering of SunGold was aimed at protecting the plants further from Psa-V but ended up also delivering high taste and high production with early-season fruit.

The older avocado trees were felled in 2015, replaced by tunnel houses sheltering hydroponic raspberries, solberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Recent expansion of the land to 37ha has led to a near doubling of the berries from 5ha to 9ha, plus an excavated nine million litre water reservoir.

The orchard also contains a purpose-built berry packhouse for local and international sales and amenities for a large workforce.

Maungatapere Berries principal Patrick Malley principal with berryfruit manager Aroha Heta.

Comfrey dies back and composts during winter and its long tap roots aid in bringing up nitrogen and minerals. It also provides bees with a nectar food source and directional guidance back to their hives, especially in covered kiwifruit blocks.

Lavender, hebe, rosemary, borage and forget-me-nots are also planted at the ends of kiwifruit canopies as nectar sources.

The orchard blocks are sheltered with casuarina and cryptomeria because they don’t harbour pests and diseases.

The Malleys share title in a 3.5ha lake next to the orchard, around which flax and other native species have been planted for bird habitats.

Kiwifruit blocks get both solid and liquid fertiliser through a fertigation system feeding drippers and micro-sprinklers that greatly reduce the risk of nutrient run-off.

In the new hydroponic blocks the rainfall on the tunnel houses is collected and directed to the new holding dam, which provides irrigation water as a back-up to the Maungatapere Water Scheme.

All hydroponic berries are grown in bags of coir substrate, watered and fed with nutrients controlled electronically with inputs from a variety of factors, such as sunshine hours, temperature, humidity and time between applications.

Each irrigation zone runs for 3-5 minutes between six and 16 times in 24 hours.

Seaweed and other biological products are also applied along with the regular nutrient mix.

The orchard has a weather station that records temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind direction and speed and monitors soil moisture, temperature, leaf moisture and humidity.

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