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Horticultural grower in Waipapa expands to growing kiwifruit varieties

Kiwifruit harvest

Horticultural grower in Waipapa expands to growing kiwifruit varieties

Alan and Helen Thompson have been growing, packing and distributing quality produce near the Northland town of Kerikeri for more than 40 years. They started out growing melons and vegetables before establishing lemon and mandarin orchards. Now they also have green, gold and red kiwifruit in production, and are continuing plantings of both citrus and kiwifruit.

Operating under the Kainui Pack and Cool banner, their well-established business manages, grows, picks and packs fruit for their own and a few other orchards.

This year they commenced the new kiwifruit harvest at their brand-new packhouse and cool store facility on State Highway 10 in Waipapa, near the Fruitfed Supplies Kerikeri store. Alan says the need for a new packhouse came about when the kiwifruit orchard on which their previous leased packhouse was sited was sold to Ngāi Tukairangi Trust.

“We extended the lease for a period, but as it came closer to expiring and the fact we had outgrown the facility by some distance, we started planning this new packhouse three or four years ago,” says Alan.

“It’s designed to accommodate the natural growth of our own and others’ kiwifruit and citrus crops, and we’ve built in the capacity to pack avocados as well.”

Alan and Helen drew on their own 40-plus years of packhouse experience plus that of key staff to design the facility and layout. With the new capacity to take on more growers over time, Alan says they have scope to increase the volumes going through the packhouse.

The 4800 m3 packhouse is centrally located among Kerikeri’s expanding numbers of citrus, avocado and kiwifruit blocks. It comprises of an inwards good area with bin dumps and the citrus and avocado washer plants. A fully insulated production area is built from cool store panelling to offer staff a good working environment. There’s also a packaging and outwards good area, and a packaging mezzanine from which packaging is fed through to the graders. 

Next on the project list is the commissioning of brand-new cool stores over the next two or three years to match the growth in packhouse volumes and grower commitments. The new season got underway in mid-March, starting with red kiwifruit and then onto gold. The first mandarins hit the packing line around Easter and continue through April and May. Then it’s onto lemons in June with Alan saying they’re likely to start avocados in late June as well.

“Our area’s been relatively lucky with the season, avoiding the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle. Some crops are not producing to normal levels after a wet, mild winter and bud-burst around the whole country weren’t so good so fruit numbers were down from what everyone was looking for, but overall pretty good.

“We’re looking at what opportunities there are for avocados, having had several growers inquire. Our quality management staff are highly experienced with avocados, and they make a useful add-on to the business. The only difference between the kiwifruit and avocado processing is slotting in the specialised, high-pressure washer to the avocado line.”

Alan and Helen utilise the services of MG Marketing for domestic nationwide distribution of their citrus crops, and do their own exports. For the pending avocados, they’ll pack for each grower according to the grower’s distribution agreements.

On their own orchards, they have long-standing relationships with a group of Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme personnel as well as numerous valued locals who all have year-round work between the citrus and kiwifruit plantings.

“In the new packhouse, we’re looking to expand the length of time that staff are employed with the planned addition of avocados coming in alongside and after citrus, while lemons, for example, come in the off-season for kiwifruit packing. Key packhouse staff also have orchard work when not packing, particularly while we’ve been doing a lot of development with new kiwifruit blocks and more mandarins and lemons.”

Alan and Helen have a small area in red kiwifruit. “It’s still a new variety. It tastes good with a very different sweet taste but there are some issues producing it to specification. It’s very small fruit, quite different to packing the much larger gold. Shelf life is another consideration.”

Production-wise, Alan and his team have a well-established relationship with Mark Robinson, Area Sales Manager for Fruitfed Supplies and their Technical Horticultural Representative. Mark grew mandarins himself locally and worked for Alan at another business before joining Fruitfed Supplies. 

Mark says: “We enjoy a great relationship with Alan and his orchard management team. We assist with their citrus and kiwifruit soil sampling and seasonal fertiliser recommendations, as well as crop protection programmes. Kainui has a core of local staff with many years of growing and post-harvest experience. This is reflected in the professional approach that Alan's orchard managers, supervisors and staff at all levels have towards their roles in growing the best possible crop in the challenging Northland climate.

"The new Kainui post-harvest facility is a great asset for supporting Northland growers across different crops. Their approach is very much orientated around doing what’s best for the locals." Alan agrees. “We keep things simple, focusing on best practice. We go through things together with what we want to do and try and get it done on time. We have highly experienced people on the ground, and rely on them and our RSE guys to do the job properly.”

There’s been considerable development of kiwifruit and citrus in the region over the past five years or so. As these developments hit production, it’s creating some issues with labour, management and infrastructure. Alan says while the 2021-22 season was challenging with Covid’s impact on labour, he’s thankful they’re in a pretty good position this year.