West Coast cranberry venture
28 July 2004
West Coast cranberry venture catalyst for new export industry
A cranberry farm in Buller is busy establishing a new export crop for New Zealand.
Cranberries NZ Ltd, currently owned by shareholder investors Mark Lawler and Roger Brough, based just north of Westport, has researched growing cranberries in New Zealand for several years now since cranberry plants were imported in early 1990’s and is now concentrating on developing large stocks of young plants and rootstock.
Managing Director Roger Brough says there is a good demand for cranberry based products and because the majority are grown in the northern hemisphere, New Zealand cranberries will have an advantage in the northern hemisphere off season. The company has identified markets with strong growth potential in Australia and Asia. All of New Zealand’s cranberry consumption is currently imported.
“Our goal is to establish a national cranberry industry,” says Roger Brough. “There are no commercial growers in New Zealand so we’ve focused on propagating rootstock and young plants for our own farm and to ultimately supply contract growers.”
Research shows the growing conditions on the West Coast are ideal because cranberries need access to plenty of water. They are particularly suited to the marshland soils around Westport and the Grey Valley, which have a high level of organic matter and good water holding capacity. This allows the berries to be harvested by flooding the planted area – the berries float to the top and are ‘float harvested’. Cranberries NZ Ltd now requires additional investment to develop its Buller farm into a full commercial operation. The West Coast Development Trust today announced it is initially investing $400,000 to assist with farm development.
“Cranberries NZ Ltd is introducing a new industry to the West Coast and New Zealand,” says Development Trust chief executive Mike Trousselot. “The venture has several unique aspects – the crop uses low quality land and there are great self-employment opportunities for contract growers. Up to 50 full-time equivalent jobs could be generated on the West Coast in the next 10 years.”
Roger Brough estimates Cranberries NZ Ltd has a 3-4 year lead time on any other commercial growers in New Zealand. He was involved in MAF’s first release of cranberry cuttings in 1993. “In addition to its own farm development Cranberries New Zealand is propagating rootstock for sale to contract growers. Once planted, it takes 3-4 years for the plants to produce berries, which is where we’re currently at. Our plants are still quite young but initial yields are better than anticipated.” Roger says Cranberries NZ is a catalyst for the development of New Zealand’s cranberry industry. “Our role is to provide rootstock to contract growers, provide them with management expertise and be the link between them and the market. We’re looking for a long-term, sustainable industry.”
It is anticipated that contract growers will become shareholders in a separate company responsible for further processing and marketing of cranberries from New Zealand.
The West Coast Development Trust has offered Cranberries NZ a four-year funding package of debt and equity, with a total distribution approved of $1.2M. The Development Trust becomes a 50% stakeholder and will appoint directors to the Cranberries NZ Ltd Board.