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Awards Help Hort Newbies Climb Steep Learning Curve

Farm Environment Awards Help Hort Newbies Climb Steep Learning Curve

Horticultural newcomers Patrick and Rebecca Malley say entering the Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards was a great way to build knowledge.

In 2011 the couple left jobs in Auckland to run Ararimu Orchard with Patrick’s parents Dermott and Linzi. Situated at Maungatapere near Whangarei, Ararimu grows 14ha of kiwifruit and 3.5ha of avocados.

While Patrick grew up on an apple orchard in the Hawke’s Bay, he and Rebecca knew very little about growing kiwifruit when they first arrived. So the learning curve was steep.

Rebecca says they decided to enter the 2014 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) after talking to other people who had been involved in the competition.

“As we are fairly new to the horticultural industry we are always looking for ways to learn and to meet new people, so being involved in the awards seemed like a really good way to do both these things.”

The Malleys were pleasantly surprised when BFEA judges awarded their operation three category awards, including the Massey University Innovation Award. This award recognises farmers and farming families who develop or embrace new technologies and systems, and have an established record of advancing farm or orchard practices for improved results.

BFEA judges praised the “unparalleled level of innovation across the whole orchard” and made special mention of the family’s staff management philosophy. Staff on Ararimu are paid a living wage and encouraged to undertake additional training in horticulture.

Ararimu employs 26 full-time staff, with an extra 14 part-time staff on board during the kiwifruit harvesting season.

“We only employ locals and our aim is to employ people on a full-time basis rather than just seasonally,” says Rebecca.

The Massey University Innovation Award held special significance for Patrick and Rebecca, who met at Massey University where Patrick was a business management student and Rebecca studied veterinary science.

Rebecca says participating in the Northland BFEA was a rewarding and worthwhile experience.

Entering the competition was easy, she says, and the judging was conducted in a very relaxed manner.

“We enjoyed showing the judges around the orchard and we had two visits from four judges with a wide range of skills and experience. The process made us take a good hard look at what we were doing on the orchard. It also made us ask ourselves if there might be better ways of doing some things in future.”

At the end of the process the judges presented the family with a report that offered helpful advice on how they could improve the performance of the operation.

Rebecca says being involved with the competition is a great way for people to find out about how to improve the sustainability of their farm and horticultural businesses.

“We would definitely encourage other orchardists to enter the awards,” she says.

“You’ve got nothing to lose by giving it a go.”

More information on the Awards is available at a special function being held on Tuesday 30th September, commencing at 5.45pm at Barge Showgrounds Events Centre.

Northland Supreme Winners will be in attendance along with guest speaker, Blake Holgate, Rabobank: Competitive Challenges – Environmental regulations are changing the rules of the game.

Potential entrants and interested parties are welcome to attend.

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