Apple Fields founder Kain dies

Christchurch businessman and property developer Tom Kain has died.

Kain, a member of one of Christchurch's prominent families, featured in the news regularly over a 40-year-long business career for his entrepreneurial endeavours which included horticultural, dairy and property development.

He died on December 29.

Kain and his family appeared in the pages of The Press and other papers for their notable court battles. One of the grandest struggles was between Kain's company Apple Fields and the Apple and Pear Marketing Board.

Another was an eight-year battle within the wider family over a $70 million farming fortune. It was only finally settled in 2008 by a Supreme Court decision.

Kain founded Apple Fields, which grew in the 1990s to become the country's largest corporate orchardist with 720 hectares on the outskirts of Christchurch and the capacity to produce 1.5 million cases of apples a year.

At its peak it employed 3100 staff, had offices in one of Christchurch's best buildings, could boast its own apple brand, and owned about 30 dairy farms.

But it clashed with the country's monopoly exporter, the Apple and Pear Marketing Board, in its desire to control its own apple exporting.

The "single desk" exporter blocked Apple Fields' attempts to export its apples, resulting in long, arduous and expensive court battles for Kain and the company.

Apple Fields eventually won a Privy Council ruling in its favour, and the Apple and Pear Marketing Board was axed, but these came too late for Apple Fields, which battled for survival from the late 1990s.

In 1997 the company turned from apple growing to property development, becoming one of the pioneers of developing gated communities, with its Parc Provence off Springs Rd.

The change of tack to property development proved difficult, however, and was no goldmine for its shareholders who have not done well out of their investment

Apple Fields struggled for years and sold land and assets to reduce debt.

Important events included Tower Trust, the trustee of Apple Fields' Rural Super Bonds Superannuation Scheme, through which it financed development, placing properties owned by Apple Fields' subsidiaries in receivership in August 1999 to protect nearly $13m of investors' money.

The new suburb of Northwood, in north Christchurch, was developed on its Styx Mill orchards. Kain and Apple Fields took a five-year dispute over the mortgagee sale of that development all the way to the Privy Council but lost the case, with the final appeal court in Britain upholding earlier decisions against Apple Fields' allegations it had not received a fair price.

More recently Kain and business partner Justin Prain had been experimenting with denser housing developments - village-style estates in Yaldhurst and Belfast.