Horowhenua's value stressed as vege bowl for Wellington

Last updated 06:52 06/06/2014

GROWING UNDERSTANDING: Woodhaven Gardens owner John Clarke talks to Horizons science manager Jon Roygard, right, and Ofa Taeiloa, Woodhaven Gardens' operations manager, left.

HARD WORK: Workers at Woodhaven Gardens harvest spinach.

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A Levin horticulture grower says a tour of some of the region's market gardens gave movers and shakers a lot more insight into the importance of vegetable crops to Horowhenua.

Woodhaven Gardens owner John Clarke said HortNZ people, councillors and staff at Horizons Regional Council, and some Horowhenua district councillors had a better understanding after visiting the growers.

"I employ 135 people picking and packing. Another big organisation has people too. Just the two of us have 200 people between us.

"The revenue from growing is fairly substantial for the region. Wages here at Woodhaven are $4 million a year, and 96 to 98 per cent of that would be spent in Horowhenua."

He grows about 15 vegetables on 243 hectares, some of it owned, some leased land. Clarke said the two hardest things to get his head around were the marketplace and weather, both of which had a huge impact on profit.

He has mostly Horowhenua staff, but also employs about 20 people a year from Kiribati and Tonga on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Clarke said that of the vegetables harvested, about 60 per cent went to the Auckland market, and most of the rest to the lower North Island. Just a little went south.

Horizons science manager Dr Jon Roygard said the visit showed how the regional council was working with growers and it was important in helping people to understand business.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the region was the vegetable bowl for Wellington and horticulture was important for the whole of New Zealand.

"It's a huge economic driver for the communities of Otaki, Levin, Foxton and Shannon in terms of employment."

The Government wants to see horticultural exports more than double by 2020, to $10 billion, and the industry believed it could achieve that.

Guy said there were fertile soils in Horowhenua and they needed to be looked after for the future with crop management and with new technology.

"That's why the Government has just invested, in partnership with horticultural growers and the local council, $540,000 in kick- starting the cleanup of Lake Horowhenua."

He said many farms they visited had run-offs and aquifers that flowed into the lake. "So this is probably a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to get it right, so future generations can enjoy what is an iconic lake."

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- The Dominion Post

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