“Stoked and humbled” sums up the reaction of Hineora Orchard on Te Kaha 15B, when they were announced one of three finalists in this year’s Ahuwhenua Trophy for top horticultural enterprise.
“It’s an award that ensures Maori are at the forefront of doing the right thing. We entered because that’s the benchmark we want to hold ourselves to,” says Te Kaha 15B board chairman Norm Carter.
“We’re a small organisation so we didn’t think it would happen. We were surprised to say the least.”
Te Kaha 15B is a freehold Maori land block located near the Eastern Bay of Plenty township of Te Kaha, with an 11.5ha gold kiwifruit orchard producing 133,000 trays per year.
The land includes a packhouse, a four-bedroom house for workers’ accommodation, and a shareholding in their spraying business, Te Kaha Gold Sprayers.
They have also piloted a plant nursery called Te Heriko, with a larger development on the cards with assistance from both the Provincial Growth Fund and philanthropic investors.
Norm says overcoming vine-killing disease Psa-V is what he’s most proud of, as it helped Te Kaha 15B remember the importance of how their ancestors farmed the land.
“To be blunt, Psa kicked us in the butt, as it did many others. We had to go back to the practices our ancestors used, by making the land our priority as the land looks after everything else.
“Our elders fed the community from this land by giving back what they took from it. Since Psa we’ve taken a more organic approach to help the land recover, which is much more in line with what our ancestors did.”
Many trials of different fertilisers as well as introducing worm viticulture followed. They now test soil three-four times a year and use Totalfert organic fertiliser.
“The worms were hard to keep up in terms of cost, but we are always finding new ways to invigorate the soil and bring it back to life. This will remain our approach going forward,” says Norm.
Like many lots across the BOP, this year’s dry summer has also posed a challenge. “In saying that, we’re reasonably lucky in Te Kaha because we have a microclimate, so it will rain here even when it isn’t raining anywhere else. We get support from above.”
No-one is directly employed by the orchard, but rather indirectly within OPAC and their own businesses, Te Kaha Gold Sprayers and pilot Te Heriko Nursery.
Four managers and leading team members who work on the orchard became qualified with support from Te Whanau-a-Apanui Fruit Growers Sustainable Labour Initiative, which Te Kaha 15B Trust helped to establish.
The initiative has funded 59 students from the area to study horticulture at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Tauranga. “It has allowed our people climb the ladder into better employment and better the wider community, who they become role models for.”
Te Kaha 15B will also have a hand in several upcoming community development projects, after the Te Kaha Landowners Group was given a $370,000 grant from the Provincial Growth Fund.
Depending on the success of the projects, further funding can be accessed through the PGF by way of low-interest loans, up to $13 million.
Community development has been a fundamental value of Te Kaha 15B, since the Hineora Orchard project began in 1999. That vision was especially held by Norm’s older brother, John Lawson Snr.
“He was a part of the original group who set up the trust, and he passed away eight years after it all started. I’m glad we’ve been able to uphold the vision and hopes he had for it.”
Being whanau-minded is a moral shared by current trustees too – they have each dedicated more than 15 years to the board. The Te Kaha 15B trustees attended Parliament on February 21, where they were announced an Ahuwhenua finalist for 2020.
“It’s a shame that COVID-19 affected the Ahuwhenua Field Days events, but such is life,” says Norm. “If there is an event to announce the winner at the end of the year, Te Kaha 15B will be there with bells on.”