It’s been a journey of hard work, thinking outside the square and tenacity to get D&B Hort Ltd – growing plants for the future of the kiwifruit industry – off the ground at Paengaroa.
Now owners David and Rebecca Timms are Bay of Plenty Ballance Farm Environment Awards’ finalists for 2019.
Seven years ago David, who’d been working on dairy farms since leaving school, entered the kiwifruit industry.
He was managing the Dyers family’s 14.43ha Gold Nugget Orchard at Pukehina when vine-killing disease Psa-V hit in 2010. So one of David’s first jobs on Gold Nugget was to take a chainsaw to kiwifruit trunks, cutting out Hort16A vines.
“I started kiwifruit when Psa broke out – obviously, things weren’t looking the greatest but I look at it now and feel I was lucky to be part of a significant change in plants for the industry,” says Dave, who still manages Gold Nugget full-time.
At work Gavin asked Dave if he’d like to grow some seedlings. “I said: ‘Yes’. He said: ‘Alright, you can do a couple of thousand’. I went away, thought about it, came back and asked: ‘Can I do 4000? And it grew from there.”
That first season Gavin leant Dave gear, space at his orchard to grow the seedlings, and gave him pointers “coaching me along”.
“From there we’ve gone in our stride,” says David, whose wife Rebecca gave up her veterinary career to work full-time in the nursery, and raise the couple’s first child Lily.
After establishing D&B Hort Ltd in July 2014 and selling 4000 plants in June 2015 – positive feedback prompted them to go bigger. “And we didn’t foresee the growth that was coming – the industry is currently growing like wildfire.”
In November 2015 the couple planted 15,000 seedlings at the Dyers’ orchard. “In winter 2016 we sold those plants and thought: ‘Okay let’s go bigger again’.”
But they needed more land. The Timms bought a house at Paengaroa and in September 2016 purchased 22ha next door, with the Dyers being loan guarantors for 18 months. “This was very admirable on their part; it was big help for a younger couple,” says David.
November 2016 the Timms developed the nursery on 2.5ha flat land, planting 30,000 seedlings and Rebecca became a nursery full-timer. “Before this we both still had full-time jobs, we worked at nights and on weekends.”
In November 2017 they planted 65,000 seedlings, sold 30,000 as one-year-olds in June 2018, keeping 35,000 in the ground. “We’ve just planted another 30,000 to sell as one-year-olds this winter and will have 35,000 two-year-olds to sell.”
The Timms purchase seedlings from well-known grower Wayne Parker in Te Puna. “We’ve stuck with Wayne as he produces a good quality product, so we can turn it into a good quality Bruno rootstock.”
David says Wayne recycles pots “which many other guys don’t” so all return to him for cleaning and re-use.
The nursery is split into rows, each with four mounds and a Fast Track for shelter. Rebecca says seedlings are planted out in ‘strawberry’ polythene-made mounds with dripper lines underneath, which are connected to a fertigation system. “They get fertilised and watered daily for those initial months, then when required.”
They avoid watering seedlings overhead after what David’s seen Psa do to small plants in wet weather. “In orchards they’re going to get rain but any water you can minimise on leaves, with Psa being waterborne, is best practice – especially for seedlings.”
Each plant has a bamboo stake they are trained to climb up. “That’s where a lot of time comes in – because what growers want is a straight single graft-able stem,” says Rebecca.
Secondary shoots are broken off, and weedmat is placed between mounds to curb weed growth. “We’ve probably eliminated more than 80 per cent of our glyphosate use since introducing weedmat,” says David. The measure also reduces labour needed to remove weeds – “time spent hand-weeding is better spent training plants – and with young seedlings we don’t want to risk spraying around them”.
David says Psa is their biggest challenge. “Also, pest and insects – tropical armyworm and black beetle. To limit damage we sew cover crops between crops, planting lupin and mustard seed. They also help with soil conditioning.”
And being based on Kaituna River’s edge poses the issue of water run-off. “We’re surrounded by hills, we get good rains, so to hold loose ground we get the next cover crop in as soon as we can.”
A spray programme of copper is in place to manage Psa, and they use foliar sprays, seaweed solutions and fertiliser to encourage plant health. “We try to look after the soil by trying to put back in what we take out.”
Rebecca says their 22ha property has areas of native plants. “There’s lots of hill not suitable for much stock – so to minimise erosion we’ve got three stages of native planting planned in the next five years.”
They also plan to run deer; the property is fully fenced for the animal. “Deer are light-footed, so not as hard on the hills, so we want to slowly start to build numbers.”
The young couple say they entered the BFEA awards after Dave was involved last year with Gold Nugget’s entry. “We’re at the end of a five-year plan, and about to roll into another so gaining that outside critique from the judges will be beneficial for us.
“Five years ago we were making ends meet, wondering what we we’re going to do with our life – so if we can encourage other young couples ‘it can be done’ that would be great too.”
Dave says for young couples trying to get into the kiwifruit industry things are strongly overpriced “but there are avenues you can take”. “None of it is easy but it can be done – we’re walking proof of that.”
“There is so much opportunity in this industry – you’ve got to take hold of it, stick to your guns and it will work out.”