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Award-winning growers take on new challenge
3 April 2017

Even when Maria Watchorn isn’t in her avocado orchard, she’s thinking about the health of her trees.

Sitting down with her at her Prole Rd home in Omokoroa, her ears prick up and she quietly asks her husband Andrew if an irrigator has been switched off in a nearby block. It’s this attention to detail before the interview begins that illustrates how closely the Watchorns are in tune with every aspect of their orchard.

It’s a management approach that has seen them rewarded with consistent production and last year, industry recognition. They were judged Top Growers for 2016 after achieving a four-year average yield of 24 tonne/ha – the highest of any export grower in New Zealand.

Consistent production is something the Watchorns, who supply export leader AVOCO, have always strived for since purchasing their property 12 years ago. They believe a combination of pruning, injecting, pest control and water management have been critical to their success.

Having struck a formula that works, they backed themselves 18 months ago to purchase a second orchard north of Tauranga and they’ve been hard at work ever since whipping it into shape.

Their new property on Walker Rd East produces fruit off 6 canopy hectares and features Hass trees ranging in age from 20 to 35-years-old. Some 100 Dusa clonal rootstock were planted five years ago by the previous owner which Maria says they are learning more about as the trees age, with further Dusa and Bounty being planted in 2017.

“I’m part of a new Bay of Plenty industry group looking at new cultivars and the trials and research into varieties like Bounty and Dusa, which are grown in our new orchard, have been interesting to follow. I’ve always been open to learning and expanding my knowledge and our second orchard is a good place to learn about those.”

The decision to take on a second orchard came off the back of careful planning, consistent financial returns from AVOCO and a desire by Andrew to give up corporate banking to join Maria, also an ex-banker, in day-to-day orchard management.

“Over the years, we wanted to expand and we felt we had the experience and knowledge to take on something more challenging that we could do as a couple and as a family,” says Maria.

“Andrew was involved in banking for about 30 years but since he’s been home, he’s really got stuck in. By nature, he’s a very practical person and he loves the outdoors. He’s adjusted to orchard life really, really well.”

With Andrew overseeing the second orchard, the couple have installed irrigation for frost protection and tensiometers to measure soil moisture levels which alert the couple when their soil becomes too dry.

The orchard’s upgrade has been a significant investment but one they believe will reap rewards in the long run. “For the past 12 months, we’ve worked 10 hour days to get the second orchard to the stage that we’re happy with and where we think it needs to be to do what it does best: grow fruit to produce an income and give us a lifestyle that we enjoy.”

 

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