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Bay of Plenty couples reign supreme at annual AVOCO awards
1 August 2016

Two avocado growing couples in the heart of the Western Bay of Plenty have claimed AVOCO’s top grower awards.

Brian and Jan Robinson from Kauri Point picked up AVOCO’s Grower of the Year award at the company’s recent conference in Auckland. The couple, who have a 4ha block of mature Hass avocados, produced a two-year average of 21.7 tonnes per hectare.

Nominated for the award by their packhouse Kauripak, they also took home the Team Avocado Grower of the Year trophy.

David and Kay Wallace from Omokoroa, who pack with Apata, were runners up to the supreme award after earlier being judged Primor Grower of the Year.

The awards recognise excellence and are public recognition for growers who operate at the top of their game. However, a significant change to this year’s awards meant growers were judged on average total tonnes per hectare, export percentage and fruit size profile for the past two seasons - not their immediate past season’s production.

It’s a move endorsed by both winners who say the new judging criteria fairly represents orchard productivity and seasonal fluctuations.

For the Robinsons, who boast over three decades in the industry, the win still came as a surprise.

“We were absolutely thrilled,” said Mrs Robinson. “We have been in the industry for 33 years so it was really neat, and we were rapt to get the top award.”

Purchasing their rural property, north of Katikati, in 1984, the couple have carved out an innovative success story by not being afraid to try new things and defy conventions.

With about 310 Hass trees of varying ages, they were one of the first orchardists to adopt aerial spraying but at the same time, support many tried and tested practices associated with feeding their trees and protecting them from phytophthora.

The Wallaces, meanwhile, have been orchardists for just nine years on their 0.8ha block in Omokoroa after moving north from Te Puke.

Previously judged runners-up for the Apata Grower of the Year 2015-16 title, the couple were still equally taken aback by being awarded the top Primor grower prize.  

Mr Wallace says what their orchard lacks in size is more than made up by the couple’s in-depth knowledge of their avocado trees, which has led to them producing a two-year average of 17 tonnes per hectare.

“Management is probably easier on a smaller orchard because I know each of the trees individually. I talk to each of them and I can see what they want. If they are hungry, I’ll feed them and so on,” he explains.

The couple undertake most roles themselves, including the pruning and picking of their 53 Hass trees planted across two blocks.

The most pleasing, yet constantly challenging aspect of growing has been breaking free of biennial bearing which many orchards face, he says.

“Our first few seasons here saw us produce about 2000 trays one year then virtually nothing the next. But we’ve addressed this and hopefully we can keep doing it. That’s the next challenge.”

The awards presentation in Auckland was one of the highlights of AVOCO’s  conference which attracted interest from more than 200 growers and expert technical speakers from Australia and the US.

AVOCO is a collaborative partnership between Team Avocado and Primor Produce. Working together, the two export companies have secured supply from more than 700 New Zealand growers. In 2016-17, they plan to export about 3.1 million trays, with 83% destined for Australia. The remaining 17% will be sent to various Asian markets under the AVANZA brand.

 

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