Sheep go as passion for fruit grows

DIANE BISHOP
Last updated 06:50 06/06/2014
McIntosh
Fairfax NZ

TOP GROWER: Earnscleugh fruit grower Wayne McIntosh won the supreme award in the 2014 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

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An apple a day ...

Well, you know how the rest of the saying goes.

Earnscleugh fruit grower Wayne McIntosh is encouraging people to choose fruit as a snack instead of a fat and sugar-laden chocolate bar.

"It (fruit) is good for you and it's a healthy choice compared to a novelty bar," he said.

McIntosh, who won the supreme award in the 2014 Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards, recently hosted a field day at his orchard, near Alexandra.

Those attending the event had the opportunity to sample his deliciously sweet and crisp Pacific Queen apples straight from the tree.

"This sort of fruit sells itself.

"People know it's good for them," McIntosh said.

McIntosh has 34,000 fruit trees on the 64 hectare summerfruit orchard he farms in partnership with his parents Stuart and Sharyn.

The property, which was once part of Earnscleugh Station, has been in the McIntosh family since 1881 and was established as a cropping farm.

Oats were grown for almost 30 years before the first fruit trees were planted in 1910 and a sheep farm was established.

McIntosh grows cherries, which makes up 40 per cent of the family's income, as well as peaches, nectarines, apples and apricots and is currently trialling feijoas and kiwiberries, a smaller version of kiwifruit.

"I enjoy eating feijoas and I'm keen to see if kiwiberries will grow in our Central Otago climate," McIntosh said.

McIntosh, who joined the family business 10 years ago, employs eight fulltime staff and 40 to 50 seasonal staff including a mix of local and international workers.

He also has a "nana crew" who help with the tree thinning.

"I'm fortunate to have a good team around me," he said.

The harvest starts with the cherries in mid-December and ends with apples in April and income is spread over three to four months of the year.

McIntosh said he was passionate about growing top quality fruit and marketing it for the greatest possible return.

His fruit is consumed from the Bay of Islands to Bluff and he has developed key markets overseas including the United States and China.

He is establishing exclusivity for McIntosh produce.

He personally offers to a select group of exporters what he anticipates will be available on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. In a process similar to tendering or auctioning, each batch goes to the highest bidder.

"They know they can buy in confidence of getting top quality and we achieve a premium return, so it's win-win," McIntosh said.

Most of the fruit trees are relatively new plantings, with 30 per cent under seven years old.

McIntosh's highest returning apple is the Pacific Queen, a cross between the Royal Gala and Splendour varieties, and he aims to grow apples as cheaply as he can.

"We reduced the area we grow in apples from 14ha to 6ha because we were losing money.

"But, I'm quite excited about them moving forward."

He uses chemicals to restrict the growth of his apple trees which in turn helps improve the colour and size of the fruit.

The lifespan of a tree was about 18 to 20 years but it took about three years to become established before reaching peak production between five and 15 years.

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"By 18 to 20 years the tree is near the end of its life and I have to start thinking about what I'm going to replace it with."

New trees are sourced as dormant buds to allow replanting at the correct time.

The orchard needs a significant amount of water and the McIntosh's operate five dams with water allocation from the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme. "Without water we couldn't grow fruit here.

"We're putting on 2.5 to 4 metres of water a year, almost to the point of saturation," McIntosh said.

Over and under tree sprinklers are used for both irrigation and frost fighting purposes as well as a windmill which is effective over an area of about 10ha.

McIntosh orchard has invested in the state-of-the-art machinery with two Ferrari VEG95 tractors used for spraying and groundwork.

"Our first tractor was a 1949 Massey Harris and over the years we have replaced all the parts to keep it working.

"But, it's important we have the right gear," he said.

The winter months are spent detail pruning each and every one of the 34,000 trees.

McIntosh, who is focused on producing fruit of the highest quality, has now got rid of the last of his breeding ewes.

"I can crutch a sheep but it wasn't a passion of mine. I'm confident about the future of my industry but we've got to be in boots and all - we can't be half-hearted about it."

There is plenty of scope to increase production and up to 4000 more trees will be planted in the coming months.

McINTOSH ORCHARD

* 64ha of which 40ha is currently planted

* A 50:50 partnership between Wayne McIntosh and his parents Stuart and Sharyn

* 34,000 fruit trees

* Tree varieties as a percentage of income:

* Cherries (40 per cent)

* Peaches (20 per cent)

* Nectarines (20 per cent)

* Apples (15 per cent)

* Apricots (5 per cent)

* 8 fulltime staff and employing 40 to 50 seasonal staff

* Cherry net canopy 10ha

- Taranaki Daily News

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