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Passion runs deep
Passion runs deep


Raised by a strong Italian family, Maria Watchorn couldn’t help being swept up by the love for horticulture shared by her father and two uncles after a successful 18 years in the banking Industry.

“My family grew a lot of vegetables. It’s incredible how much a child can learn by osmosis. Growing up, you’re just surrounded by it all but that learning is happening all the time.”

She credits her upbringing for the passion she has now for growing avocados on the orchard she shares with her husband Andrew and their son Caleb at Omokoroa, north of Tauranga.

They bought the Prole Rd property seven years ago with the intention of converting what was a rundown avocado and citrus orchard into kiwifruit. But their plans changed after the orchard was GPS mapped to reveal there were more avocado trees planted than they had originally realised.

“We bought it under the impression it was a block with gnarly old orange and mandarin trees taking over what we thought were about 140 avocado trees. In reality, we were starting out with 300 avocado trees.”

After a radical re-think, the couple focused their efforts on cutting out all the citrus and planting about 70 more avocado trees. Maria also undertook a major pollinator planting programme, with 10 per cent of their orchard planted with pollination-boosters, such as Zutano, Bacon and Ettinger in the first 18 months.

“Pollination is important so we did that to give bees a little bit more opportunity to successfully cross-pollinate our orchard.”

The orchard produces fruit off 2.7 canopy hectares with this season’s crop the best ever. A total of 29 tonnes per hectare have so been picked so far this year – an increase on their five-year average of 20 tonnes per hectare. Like many other growers in the area, the trees are once again set to produce similar volumes for the coming season.

Through careful management, Maria has been able to generate an export crop every year and believes a combination of pruning, injecting, pest control and water management have been critical to her success.

They put in a bore less than eight months after taking over the orchard for the benefits of both irrigation and frost protection at critical times of the year.

Overhead sprinklers automatically turn on over the canopy when orchard temperatures drop below 5degC to reduce the impact of frost damage. Tensiometres in the soil measure moisture levels and alert Maria before the soil becomes too dry. This is carefully monitored during the flowering and summer periods.

“Installing these systems was incredibly expensive but the investment has paid off because it’s turned the orchard around.

“I’m very vigilant when it comes to water requirements because it makes all the difference to fruit size and plays a major part in helping the tree hold its fruit when they grow, general health and ensuring that when a dry period occurs fertiliser applied can in fact be watered into the soil.”

Maria is hands-on in the orchard and is responsible for its management but works closely with pruner Michael Dillon and consultant Colin Partridge when it comes to pruning and fertiliser recommendations. In 2008, they started flower pruning to prevent any problems with fruit overload. Every spring they structurally prune the trees and follow through again in autumn with a tidy up to ensure more sunlight reaches the orchard floor.

Maria believes the relationship a grower has with their consultant and pruner is important. “Michael, Colin and I work really well together and I’m always keen to learn more from others in the industry as well. The New Zealand Avocado Industry has been running a pruning trial on our orchard for the past four years and I’ve given Michael a block of his own to run a hedge rowing trial on. I’m always interested to see what works and what doesn’t. I try to remain very open-minded to others opinions and ideas.”

Maria packs with Apata and supplies Primor Produce and is excited about the past season’s Orchard Gate Return and the opportunity for ongoing growth through the advent of AVOCO.

“I’ve been really impressed with AVOCO’s efforts and teamwork in its first year. We’ve seen the two powerhouses of our industry come together and I have a lot of faith in John Carroll and Alistair Young. I do believe they’ll be successful.”

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Partners: Southern Produce, Primor, Team Avocado