Seeing opportunity where others see adversity is something Gavin Dyer and David Timms have in common; as is the courage to act on their convictions.
Gavin and wife Linda, with brother Stephen and wife Lynette, own Gold Nugget Orchard at Pukehina, which is an entrant in the 2018 Bay of Plenty Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Four years ago, the orchard employed David as its manager.
“What I like about David is his positive attitude and work ethic,” says Gavin who took what might be viewed as a risk in employing David who had only just entered the kiwifruit industry.
“You can teach the skills of growing kiwifruit, but you can’t teach attitude.”
David also took a risk. He had been working on dairy farms since he left school but decided to change careers and began studying horticulture at polytech, shortly before the vine disease Psa-V hit the industry.
“My dairy farming bosses said my job was still open if I wanted it, but I decided I would stick with kiwifruit despite all the doom and gloom.”
David went on to work for David Reid of Reid Kiwifruit Management Ltd, which at the time was managing the 14.43 ha Gold Nugget Orchard for the Dyers.
“Once Psa arrived I realised an entirely different approach to orchard management was required and I wanted someone with the right mindset, who knew nothing about the way kiwifruit was managed before Psa and had a willingness to learn,” says Gavin.
One of David’s first jobs at Gold Nugget was to take the chainsaw to kiwifruit trunks, cutting out Hort16A vines. “I’m never one to give up, and when I see people having a crack, I’m more than happy to help,” says David. “I figured I had nothing to lose as I could always go back to dairying.”
Those Bruno stumps David cut back were oozing white Psa “like spaghetti” says Gavin. “We had no option but to graft to the new variety G3 even though we had no idea if it would work. It was a variety bred for other attributes, not tolerance to Psa. We just got lucky with this variety.”
Psa compiled issues that arose in 2008 (pre its arrival) when the orchard was grafted from Hayward to Hort 16A. The first grafts produced malformed leaves which when tested, proved to be caused by hormone spray used on a maize crop to control broadleaf weeds.
“It hadn’t shown itself in the mature canopy but came through in the grafts. We had to keep re-grafting in the hope it would grow out of the plant.”
Despite the setbacks, today the orchard’s production levels exceed the industry average and while Psa is still present, its incidence and impact are negligible.
Gavin respects David’s decision to stick with the kiwifruit industry despite its then uncertain future. He’d made a somewhat similar decision himself when he returned from overseas and decided to set up an orchard management business during the serious economic downturn which hit the industry in the 1980s.
“I signed up two long-term leases on orchards and made good money when the industry came right, setting me up to buy my first orchard in Canon Road, Katikati.” When the new gold variety Hort16 was released, Gavin sold the Katikati orchard which he deemed unsuitable for the new gold, buying a derelict horticultural block in Ruahihi Road, in the Kaimai Ranges.
“We bulldozed what was there and started again,” he explains.
In 2008, Gavin, Linda, Stephen and Lynette bought Gold Nugget Orchard which was growing Hayward, converting 14.5Ha of Hort16A – until it was infected by Psa.
Unsure if the industry he had invested so heavily in had a future, Gavin nonetheless put in place the best management practices and people he could for growing the new variety.
“We still manage the orchard as if Psa was a big problem, including sterilising our cutting tools, applying copper sprays when adverse weather events are forecast and paying attention to orchard hygiene and vine health,” says David.
The orchard’s four permanent staff are encouraged to be pro-active in their observation of what’s happening to the vines. Under David’s guidance, they’ve been taught meticulous and methodological workmanship, with the focus on doing a good job in the current season to result in an easier job in the following.
The orchard operates under the philosophy that “people are key”, paying staff no less than $20 an hour and providing social occasions and team building days.
Compost is applied to feed the vines, build humus and improve soil health. This is especially important in the new 3.9 ha greenfield development block of G3 which was grafted in 2015. “Previously this block could hardly grow grass, it was so hungry for nutrients,” says Gavin.
David and the Dyers have a passion and focus for thinking outside the square. They set up the new 3.8Ha block under hail net protection, with a mixture of Bounty and Bruno rootstock in a high-density layout to maximise production with alternate rows of triple planted Bruno which are sacrificial after two crops with the intention to convert to Bounty.
A trial using “Extenday” white reflective ground cover to lift production and improve vine health on the mature orchard has been so successful, it is being extended this season.
“The blocks with the ground cover had similar dry matter to other blocks, but produced more fruit,” says Gavin.
“Leaves stayed on the vines longer and the vines are healthier,” says David. It appears the full benefits of the $8000 per hectare investment will be on-going with further gains expected in subsequent seasons.
Hicane is applied at night to reduce spray drift risk. “People, animals and birds are not active outdoors at night,” says David. Another benefit of the practice is that it has reduced the need for flower thinning – possibly due to improved contact time in cooler, more moist conditions prevalent at night.
Gavin strongly believes the kiwifruit industry needs more young, talented and enthusiastic people like David to ensure its future. “There are currently limited pathways for young growers into orchard ownership.”
To assist David and wife Rebecca towards their orchard ownership goal, Gold Nugget Orchard partnership encouraged the couple to develop a Bruno rootstock nursery, and when they wanted to expand the operation, became guarantors for the loan to buy a 22ha block adjacent to their home.
Gold Nugget Orchard and its owners are growing not just high-quality kiwifruit, using sustainable practices, but they have an eye on the industry’s long-term future, and are nurturing people too.