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Industry leader recognised
13 January 2016

John Schnackenberg has already been recognised for his enormous contribution to the New Zealand avocado industry but that’s not stopping him from planning more industry improvement.

John was awarded a Life Membership at the New Zealand Avocado Growers Association and Avocado Industry Council’s AGM last year – an award that for him came completely “out of the blue”.

“When it came, perhaps I was a little unaware of the contribution I made. But when you reflect on things, I can look back and feel extremely proud of the role I played in things. I’m certainly honoured by the award but I know there’s a lot more that we, in the industry, need to achieve.”

John, who is AVOCO’s Grower Relations Committee vice-chairman, has been involved in the avocado industry since buying an orchard north of Katikati 16 years ago.

He served on the board of the NZAGA and AIC for nine years and was chairman between August 2007 and May 2013.

During his tenure, John had delivered to the board the first five-year strategic plan for the industry, strengthened ties between NZ and the Californian Avocado Society and Californian Avocado Committee and expertly helped keep Australia’s industry leaders at bay when they pushed hard for a compulsory promotions levy on all NZ avocados crossing the Tasman.

He also represented the NZ industry at the World Avocado Congress in Chile, helped launch major new season promotions in Japan with AIC chief executive Jen Scoular and led efforts to ensure the Ministry for Primary Industries removed its record of avocado sun blotch viroid ASBVd being present in NZ.

John, who before buying his orchard spent 20 years in corporate accounting and IT, always had a passion for primary industries. He left school to study agricultural commerce at Lincoln University before switching degrees and moving to Auckland. He enjoyed a successful career as an accountant but admits always wanting to own a farm or orchard. “By the time the opportunity arrived I felt I was too old to be kicked and shoved by cattle or sheep. After having a good look at the options around Katikati, I ultimately bought the first orchard I had seen.”

Over the years, he’s divided his time between orchard and industry duties. Last year, he kept a diary recording how much time he worked in his orchard and discovered he put in 784 labour hours. “It shows that 100 hours per hectare is a pretty good rule of thumb as an experienced grower mate had already told me.”

He’d like the avocado industry to adopt more benchmarking practices in order for growers to get a better understanding of how their orchard compares to the best in the industry and in their growing area.

“There are people in our industry, especially in the Bay of Plenty, for whom production is a sideline. There will be opportunities for improvement on their orchard but for that to happen, they need to capture all the relevant information first.

“This is an exercise around activity cost modelling and looking at labour hours and the physical costs involved in all the core activities performed on your orchard. It’s all part of the process of improvement and I believe AVOCO is well-placed to take a leadership role in that.”

Overall, John says the industry is in great” shape. “I’m encouraged by the medium to long term future of the industry. There are sustainable returns for growers whose orchard has reached good production levels.”

“I thank growers for the opportunity they’ve given me and I’d especially like to thank my wife Catherine for the support she gave me to make the most of those opportunities.”




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