Waikato orchard jam-packed with potential

7:48 PM Friday October 5, 2018 Paul Charman

An aerial view of the 8.8ha property at 9 Woodlands Rd. Photo / Supplied

A Waikato blueberry orchard producing one of this country’s rarest but highest-yielding blueberry crops is for sale by tender.

Bayleys Hamilton is marketing the Gordonton operation, which has its own processing plant and refrigerated pack-house. Tenders close 2pm, October 19.

Bayleys’ Mike Fraser-Jones says the 8.8ha property, at 819 Woodlands Rd, comprises eight hectares of blueberry plantings under canopy cover, along with buildings, equipment and plant required to pick, sort, package and chill blueberries.

“Planted on peat soil and regularly fertilised, this operation has about 15,000 trees, including 500 of the new Jaac variety of blueberry, which produces a heavier-yielding crop than traditional clones,” says Fraser-Jones.

“Other blueberry varieties grown in the orchard include Powder Blue, Tiff Blue, Centra Blue, O’Neal, Sunset, and Velluto.”

About 80 per cent of New Zealand’s blueberry fruit is cropped between December and March in the Waikato region, with potential for increased earnings well illustrated by production forecasts at the Gordonton operation.

“The 2017/2018 harvest at this orchard produced 59,042kg of blueberries,” Fraser-Jones says. “However, production calculations are that this will almost double to 114,868kg in the 2020/2021 season. It is also forecast that during the 2024/25 season a remarkable 176,442kg of harvestable fruit will be grown on the property.”

Fraser-Jones says the orchard belongs to the BerryCo NZ marketing alliance, which has a highly-efficient supplier reconciliation system.

“The owners initiated a major replanting schedule in 2015, when low-yielding Maru and Rahi trees were pulled out and replaced with 5421 Centra and Jaac trees.

“Planting Jaac trees has significantly improved the position of this farm and given it a competitive advantage of being one of only three orchards in New Zealand which has the capacity to supply Jaac berries for export.

“The Jaac variety produces berries about the size of a $2 coin — bigger than traditional-sized blueberries. While older varieties of blueberry yield between 2-4kg of crop-per-plant, the Jaac plantings at the Gordonton orchard are already cropping 12kg of fruit per tree, with indications that number will increase even further — peaking at about 15kg per tree.

“Not only is the Jaac bigger than older varieties, but it has more flavour. BerryCo is very excited about the Jaac and forecast strong global demand for the new strain because of its size and flavour which can command a premium price ahead of other stock.

“The orchard crops multiple varieties of blueberries to ensure a ‘conveyor belt’ of ripening periods throughout the growing season, rather than having all stock peak at the same time.

“A new owner operator could continue with this successful production strategy, or implement the current owner’s plan of steadily converting a greater percentage of plantings to the higher yielding Jaac variety,” he says.

Building infrastructure includes a purpose-built high-stud processing plant accessible through two large roller doors. An adjacent cool store shed is lined with refrigeration panelling and chiller rooms and there is open-sided three-bay farm vehicle and equipment barn.

Business chattels in the sale include commercial-grade sorting and packaging conveyor lines, and a substantial catalogue of heavy-duty vehicles and equipment for picking and moving stock throughout the tree-to-delivery-truck process.

Fraser-Jones says the property comes with its own accommodation, in the shape of a 280sq m five-bedroom owner/manager’s residence.

“A gravelled race runs through the spine of the plantings to enable both easy plant maintenance throughout the year, and efficient harvesting in the picking season. Ease of access throughout the property is bolstered by the totally flat topography of the land.”

The orchard is protected by netting and surrounded by 4m hedges, to shield the trees from adverse weather. Water for the property is drawn from a deep bore.