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Industry-Leading Orchardists Win Supreme in Ballance Awards

Industry-Leading Orchardists Win Supreme in 2015 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards

Matamata horticulturists Frans and Tineke de Jong, their son Talbert de Jong and his partner Emily Meese are Supreme winners of the 2015 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA).

At a special BFEA ceremony on April 23, the de Jong’s family-run business, Southern Belle Orchard, also collected the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award, the Massey University Innovation Award, the WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award.

Described by BFEA judges as industry leaders who are “paving the way and setting examples to follow”, the de Jongs grow feijoas and capsicums on a 5.05ha property purchased in 2003.

Feijoas are produced in the 3.5ha orchard and capsicums are grown in 3000square metres of greenhouse. While a range of fruit and vegetables have been grown in the past, the de Jongs made the decision to concentrate on two main crops, focusing on quality and volume.

Judges said Southern Belle Orchard is an excellent example of what can be achieved when clear objectives and goals are established for a farming business.

“All decisions are backed up with thorough analysis, research and science. The amount of innovation and efficiency is amazing.”

Feijoas are trained espalier-style for ease of management and harvest. The orchard’s original trees are gradually being replaced with new cultivars with a range of harvest times from mid-March through until June. Southern Belle Orchard is expected to produce about 20 tonnes of feijoas this year, but estimated volume is expected to triple in four years when the new trees mature. About half of the feijoas are exported.

Southern Belle grows a range of capsicum varieties, including trial crops, which are planted in August and harvested from early November to early July. Most are sold on the local market. A small quantity of cucumbers and chillies is also grown in the greenhouses.

Along with Frans, Tineke, Talbert and Emily, Southern Belle has four staff working almost all year in the greenhouses. Up to 20 more people are employed for feijoa picking and pruning from March until July.

Talbert and Emily have been working full-time in the business since 2013 when Frans and Tineke set in motion a carefully considered 10-year succession plan.

Frans, who has a background in analytical chemistry and process technology, has devised a greenhouse heating system which reduces energy usage by 40 percent and a unique closed circuit irrigation method which ensures no nutrients are being lost.

BFEA judges said his inventive and experimental approach to soil fertility, nutrient and water management is an integral part of the business, enabling systems to be “continually refined to produce excellent crop health and yield”.

Careful and vigilant management and the use of some biological controls have significantly reduced the amount of spraying needed.

Judges also noted the “impressive analysis of production and forecasts, which prompts management to avert risk and drive efficiencies and productivity”.

A BFEA field day will be held on Southern Belle Orchard on May 21, 2015.

Winners in the 2015 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards were:

Supreme award, Hill Laboratories Harvest Award, Massey University Innovation Award, WaterForce Integrated Management Award and Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award: Frans and Tineke de Jong, Talbert de Jong and Emily Meese, Southern Belle Orchard, Matamata.

LIC Dairy Farm Award, Waikato Regional Council Water Protection Award: John Hayward and Susan O'Regan, Judge Valley Dairies Limited, Te Awamutu.

Donaghys Farm Stewardship Award: Anita and Hans Nelis, Tirau.

PGG Wrightson Land and Life Award, Waikato River Authority Catchment Improvement Award: Peter and Judi Buckley and Stuart and Lichelle Morgan, Loch Carron, Te Kauwhata.


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