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From white gold to kiwi gold

14 February, 2014

From white gold to kiwi gold

Exchanging the dairy farm for kiwifruit vines came down to seeing the golden-sweet potential that was ripe for the picking for Bay of Plenty couple Elaine and Wayne Skiffington.

After 28 years of dairy farming, the couple decided to invest all their efforts into kiwifruit around 12 years ago and have never looked back.

“We saw the potential kiwifruit had to offer and went for it,” Wayne says.

Originally purchasing their 50 hectare property in Pongakawa, in the Western Bay of Plenty 20 years ago for run-off purposes for the dairy farm, it also happened to include a kiwifruit orchard. Not knowing much about kiwifruit but not wanting to get rid of the vines, the couple decided to lease the orchard to Direct Management Services (DMS), while they ran the farm.

After seeing its potential over the following four years and learning as much as possible from DMS through the company’s grower Focus Days, the decision was made to sell the cows and take over management of the orchard.

Sixteen years later and the Skiffingtons still work closely with DMS, which packs and stores their fruit, as well as leasing a storehouse on one of the couple’s two orchard properties.

“We have always felt comfortable working with DMS. They call a spade a spade which is exactly what I like to know,” Wayne says.

The couple were early converters to the new gold variety, Gold 3 (G3), converting some of their vines in 2010, before the Psa outbreak hit the Bay of Plenty.

“We have always been excited about G3 and saw it had huge potential,” Wayne says.

“We first grafted onto vines that hadn’t yielded any crops, so it has been a little slower to take than if we had grafted onto vines that were more established, but it’s very easy to grow. It’s nearly impossible to buy a G3 orchard now because no one wants to sell; it adds huge capital value to a property.”

The couple originally converted four hectares of young Hayward green vines to G3 and have continued to convert their full allocated quota every year since.

They now have a total of seven hectares of G3, all at various stages of development, along with 14 hectares of Hayward green split between their Pongakawa property and a second smaller orchard in Te Puke.

In three years’ time they will be in full production of G3 across both sites, expected to produce more than 10,000 trays per hectare.

DMS director Paul Jones says as innovative and bold growers, Wayne and Elaine have been ahead of the game in terms of G3, with the rest of the industry now catching up.

“A couple of years ago, it was all about just surviving and people were extremely cautious about growing G3 in a Psa environment. But after seeing some outstanding G3 crops in 2013 and with better Psa management, confidence is building.

“We’re on track for another good tasting crop this year; pollination has been excellent and the weather conditions have been favourable as well. Growers are learning more and we have been stressing the importance of ‘getting it right’.”

Kiwifruit has now become an even wider Skiffington family affair, with one of their two daughters and son-in-law recently purchasing a G3 orchard in Paengaroa, encouraged by Wayne and Elaine’s confidence.

The couple’s son has also worked for DMS for the past eight years, transporting packed fruit and equipment, and before that managing the Skiffington’s Te Puke orchard.

ENDS

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