Blueberry orchard a sweet opportunity

12:00 PM Friday March 30, 2018 True Commercial

An aerial view of the 6.2ha Tomo Orchard at 97A Burnage Rd, Pukenui. Photo / Supplied

One of the North Island’s most diverse boutique orchards — encompassing blueberry, raspberry and avocado production operations — has been placed on the market for sale.

Tomo Orchard at Pukenui near Houhora in the Far North, is an intensive 6.2ha horticultural venture growing blueberries under 10,000sq m of fully-enclosed framed canopies and 8000sq m of covered netting.

The horticultural operation encompassing freehold land, business, chattels and buildings at 97A Burnage Rd will go to auction at 1pm on April 26 through Bayleys Kerikeri.

Salesperson Vinni Bhula says production records for Tomo Orchard show ever-increasing tonnage for the plantation. In the 2016 season, the business produced 1177 trays of blueberries, increasing to 3210 trays of blueberries in the 2017 crop, 6250 trays in the 2018 harvest, and with a forecast to deliver 9200 trays of blueberries from next year’s pickings.

In addition, to the blueberry crop, which consists of the Sky Blue, Centra and Oneals varietals, Tomo Orchard has 2000 raspberry plants producing 600kg of fruit annually. And complementing the dual-berry production lines, the business also sustains a 346-tree avocado plantation.

Bhula says the highly-productive horticultural business is at a junction in its lifecycle — allowing a new owner the opportunity to take on a multitude of different future revenue streams.

“Dual exposure to two vastly diverse horticulture crops and their respective management programmes and supply channels, means there are two different future paths for Tomo Orchard,” Bhula says.

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Blueberries are grown under 10,000sq m of framed canopies, plus about 8000sq m of netting. Photo / Supplied

“The shelter-belt configuration of pine and bamboo presently segmenting the landholding means there is the capacity to increase either the berry production or the avocado production,” Bhula says.

“The business’s owners have plans for avocado expansion, but these plans are by no means set in concrete, so could just as easily be adapted to alternatively increasing the berry production. That could be through increasing the blueberry or raspberry tonnage, or alternatively expanding into blackberries and strawberries which both have similar growing dynamics to blueberries and raspberries.”

Tomo Orchard sells its berry and avocado crops directly to Auckland retailers and supermarkets — supplying them from the company’s own refrigerated truck and thereby giving the business full control over the supply chain. The orchard also sells a small percentage of its crops to Pak’nSave Kaitaia.

Bhula says a new owner of Tomo Orchard would have the right to continue on with the existing direct supply arrangements, or to look at negotiating supply contracts with other wholesalers, retailers, or food manufacturers.

He says that any new owner/operator not wishing to grade/pack and market crops themselves could align production with major New Zealand berry importer/exporter The Fresh Berry Company of New Zealand Limited, which wholesales fruit to both the domestic foodservice and food manufacturing sectors.

Replicating the ever-improving output of the blueberries from the property, Tomo Orchard picked 1782 trays of avocados in the 2014/15 season, lifting up to 2500 trays for the 2017/18 harvest, and with a forecast crop of 3000 trays in the 2019/2020 season.

“However, with the avocado trees reaching the zenith of their economic lifecycle, a replacement plan is in place — with a pre-order of 1300 new avocado trees scheduled to be planted at a much higher density and efficiency,” Bhula says.

“These replacement trees are on a confirmed pre-order, and any purchaser of Tomo Orchard will have access to this stock should they wish to continue along that development strategy. Currently there is a two to three-year waiting list for avocado growth stock from approved nurseries.

“The replanting programme as it stands will see the removal of some internal shelter belt hedgerows, followed by soil enhancement of the pan to improve drainage. On the other hand, should any new owner wish to specialise in purely berry production, the land could then be replanted in berries rather than avocados.”

Tomo Orchard has been developed by its owners over the past five years — converting what was a pure avocado operation into more of a berry-focused enterprise. The sale process coincides with the venture coming into the ‘mature’ phase of its berry production cycle with minimal cropping from the first three to four seasons. Mature blueberry plants, deemed to be older than five years, should deliver about 8.5kg of fruit.

Blueberry plants typically require 25-50mm of water per week for maximum ripening during the growing season. Sustaining this requirement, irrigation for Tomo Orchard’s growing tents is drawn from a ground bore which has resource consent to extract 14,800 cubic metres of water annually.

Bhula says all blueberries are graded and packed on-site in a dedicated 54sq m pack-house. Additional building infrastructure on the property included a three-bay implement shed for tractor and machinery storage, a separate agri’ chemicals storage shed, and a 6m coolstore.

A single-storey three-bedroom owner/manager’s residence with swimming pool and two 18,900 litre water collection and storage tanks is also located on the property. The business is also being sold with the full inventory of orchard crop management equipment — ranging from pickers, pruners, ladders and airblast sprayers, through to netting and a grading conveyor belt with packing bench.

During berry harvesting season, the orchard employs up to six full-time staff and up to two part-time workers. Year-round activities such as mowing, pruning and spraying are done by the owners.

New Zealand has some 1400 commercial avocado growers — with most production taking place north of the Bay of Plenty and delivering crop year-round, with the biggest volumes coming during the summer months, Government statistics show avocados are the third largest fresh fruit export from New Zealand.