Love of the land runs in the family

16:00, Dec 13 2013
Ralph Ballinger
Family tree: Ralph Ballinger, 98, under the ginkgo tree he planted in 1950 at what was to become the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Blenheim campus. His grandson Richard is now studying viticulture there.

Working the land is in the blood for a viticulture student gaining hands-on learning on a campus vineyard in Blenheim, on land once owned by his grandfather.

Richard Ballinger is a first-year student in the Diploma in Viticulture and Wine Production programme at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

Between 1949 and 1990 his grandfather, Ralph Ballinger, now 98, cultivated crops on 10.5 hectares that is now NMIT's Blenheim campus.

Ralph Ballinger was born in 1915 in North Canterbury where he grew up. He studied at Lincoln University in Christchurch for a Bachelor of Agricultural Science.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1940, but because he had a degree and there was a shortage of skilled professionals, after two years' service he was placed into a consultancy role in food production in England.

"They told me I had to advise about vegetable seed production, and I told them I didn't know anything about it," he said.


"But they told me that's what I was doing and ‘get cracking', so I soon learned."

Mr Ballinger returned to New Zealand in 1946 to work at Lincoln University's crop research division. An opportunity to take over the farmland, where NMIT is now located, came up in 1949. He initially used the land for crop research and trials, growing various types of vegetables, flowers and asparagus.

He carried out crop trials for New Zealand seed company Yates for 25 years.

Of his 82 crops, asparagus was one of the mainstays, and was exported to Covent Garden in England.

In 1987, the Nelson Marlborough Polytechnic, now NMIT, approached Mr Ballinger to trial a three-year lease of a few hectares for a campus.

The polytech took over all the land in 1990.

Mr Ballinger said he always enjoyed working outside.

That zest was passed on to his late son, John, who was a horticultural consultant in Marlborough, and his grandson, Richard.

Having done both a vintage at Villa Maria Estate near Blenheim and worked at their cellar door, Richard is familiar with the winery side of the industry, but is keen to swot up on viticulture. He plans to do a viticulture and oenology degree once he completes his programme.

The Marlborough Express