Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Powering up the growth curve

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A family farm at the forefront of New Zealand’s environmental evolution is harnessing the sun to power its own post-harvest operation washing tonnes of potatoes at its Canterbury site. Annette Scott reports.
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At 220kw the installation at Oakley’s Premium Fresh Vegetables post-harvest site in Southbridge is one of the largest in the South Island.

Oakley’s worked with CPS Solar to implement the grid-tied solar system, where significant tons of spuds will be washed and graded using natural sun power.

This reduces carbon emissions while efficiently storing, washing, packing and dispatching fresh vegetables across the country.

The family business is taking steps towards the United Nations sustainable development goal for affordable and clean energy, setting an example to fellow Kiwi farms.

“Work has been ongoing with what we are doing to reduce the impact we are having on the environment with precision agriculture techniques having been introduced over the years,” business founder and managing director Robin Oakley says.

“New technology is being continually introduced and this journey with solar power is the next natural step for us as we move to increase sustainability in our business operations and to meet strategies and goals of industry and government.”

The project complements the three Ballance Farm Environment awards Oakley’s won in 2020 for excellence in soil management, scientific monitoring and innovation. 

The business, taking in six generations of family, is harnessing the latest technology in other areas as well with extensive use of on-farm moisture probes that accurately measure soil moisture.

The data are used to forecast irrigation needs in conjunction with up-to-date weather forecasts and crop demands. 

Oakley’s also carries out soil and plant nutrient testing to ensure timing and amount of fertilser applications maximise the quality and yield. 

“These are some of the tools we use to work beyond best practice and have a truly sustainable business.

“We are committed as a family and as a business to leaving the earth better than we found it and proud to impact NZ’s environmental growth,” Oakley says.

Oakley’s worked with CPS Solar to implement the grid-tied solar system.

Founder Robin Oakley has been passionate about growing vegetables since he was a young boy. 

The fifth generation grower grew up in rural Canterbury and it was his family that inspired him to work in food production.

He founded the company in 1985 with the vision of providing the freshest products to his customers. 

While his business is based out of Southbridge the produce comes from a number of locations across the region.

Although he and his father before him and three generations before that have always had their own businesses, they have always worked together, pooled resources and learned a lot from each other on the way. 

“The farm where I started out with my father on the south banks of the Waimakariri River is a Century Farm but I moved my business in 1999 because I needed more land with irrigation.”

That need for extra land stemmed from his change of focus. 

Rather than supplying seed potatoes as his father did, Oakley started the brand Oakley’s Premium Fresh Vegetables and began supplying exactly that to local and domestic markets. 

Customers include Foodstuffs South Island taking in Pak ‘n’ Save, New World and Four Square.

For the best growing opportunity Oakley leases paddocks from arable farmers according to the soil type, irrigation style and what the cropping rotation has been. 

The business grows, harvests, packs and sells fresh produce all year round, including varieties of potatoes, broccoli, beetroot and pumpkin.

Oakley says the diverse team is committed to providing NZ their favourite vegetables with a commitment to quality from crop to supermarket being the family’s mission.

This was affirmed with the family business taking out the NZ Food Hero award at the NZ Food Awards 2021.

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