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Avocados now the light of couple's lives
Dion Braden and Tracey Lougheed

A light has been switched on in the lives of Te Puna avocado orchardists Dion Braden and Tracey Lougheed. Not only are they now enjoying a ‘lighter’ life in the Bay of Plenty, but they are using the power of the sun to improve production at the 5 ½ ha orchard they purchased almost a year ago.

The couple’s experience with horticulture had been limited before they came to Te Puna. In fact, it only involved growing chillies and nurturing seeds in a hothouse at Orakei, in the middle of suburban Auckland.

But as Dion tells it, it wasn’t only the chillies that continued to grow. The urge to escape became stronger too, with the move by Tracey’s parents to a small block at Plummer Point featuring about 60 avocado trees proving to be just the incentive they needed.

Dion insists that it’s hard to imagine a greater contrast - from a high-pressure city life in a suburb jam-packed with houses and people to an infinitely more relaxing environment in the western Bay of Plenty.

“At times it is busier down here, but there is no traffic and very little noise. I just love walking out of the door and I’m at work. It’s great. We really love the peace of the place.”

The co-operation, advice and assistance given initially by their orchard’s previous owner, then by neighbours and their pack house have really impressed the couple. “We supply AVOCO and have found working with them really great. In fact, we have found everyone in the avocado industry to be incredibly supportive. I’ve really noticed that coming from the field in which I worked, advertising.

“To go from a dog-eat-dog mentality like that to a fully supportive mentality has really been a lovely transition for us. There’s no way we would ever consider going back to what we left.”

After arriving at Te Puna, they’ve experienced their first harvest, with 15,000 trays produced – about 90 per cent suitable for export. Dion has also taken a more aggressive approach to canopy management, removing 25 mature Hass trees to leave just under 300 and heavily pruned what was left.

This has alleviated crowding in the canopy and he agrees that there is a parallel between the opening up of the orchard to light and the new direction their lives have taken over the last 10 months.

“Yes, we have had our lives opened up too - absolutely. That was the whole point of making the move down here. In Auckland we were living in Orakei - a place of really high density housing. We overlooked the harbour, which was lovely, but you have houses packed in right around you.

“At night we were trying to get to sleep but everyone had their windows open because it was hot and TVs were blaring out till the early hours of the morning. This mix meant there was always activity going on. Helicopters were always flying over. And our lives were really pretty full on.”

Dion says apart from the distant rumble of a train occasionally, the sounds he hears most come from hawks, pukekos and pheasants. “We are so glad we have left it behind.”

 

 

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