Zealong Tea farm sold to avoid frosty reception

Owners won't risk harvest over 'it depends'

ANDREA FOX
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2013
Zealong tea
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A tea picker at Hamilton's Zealong Tea plantation working in the field.

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Bulldozers will soon move onto Zealong Tea's farm at Hamilton's Borman Rd after the owners sold the top-shelf export product property rather than risk complaints from neighbours over helicopter use against frost damage.

Hundreds of Zealong's longest established and best quality organic camellia trees and a tea leaf drying plant on the 11 hectare property will be destroyed in mid-November to make way for new housing, said Zealong spokeswoman Gigi Crawford.

The Chen family which owns Zealong had sold the residential-zoned land, which produced 4 tonnes of premium export oolong green tea worth $2 million a year, to a property developer, she said.

Zealong would now concentrate on developing its big tea farm and tourist attraction at nearby Gordonton.

In October last year the Taiwanese family, which established the Borman Rd farm eight years before northern suburbs sprawl crept to its back door, was dismayed to receive complaints from some Rototuna neighbours after calling in a helicopter before dawn when late frosts threatened the harvest.

It was the first and only time it has used a helicopter, which operated for just over three hours.

Crawford said with harvest time again imminent, the company had asked Hamilton City Council if it could use a helicopter again if severe frost threatened.

"They said 'it depends'. We did not know what that meant. We cannot risk millions of dollars on such a vague answer."

Comment was not available from the city council.

Crawford said the Borman Rd plantation was Zealong's original tea farm and its organic mature trees were its highest quality tea producers.

The trees would be destroyed because it was too costly to dig up and relocate them.

They could not be sold because Zealong needed to protect its own brand name and that of New Zealand, Crawford said.

The sale meant Zealong would lose business investment and opportunity costs, as well as heritage and historic value, she said.

"But we want to be positive. It gives us a focus on Gordonton (tea plantation) which we hope will become a Waikato icon."

Zealong intends to build a new drying plant and visitor centre at a cost of around $5 million at the plantation on Gordonton Rd, she said.

It has resource consent for development but will need building consent.

The plantation has a visitor tea house and offers a "Discover Tea" education experience.

This time last year it notched up visitor number 10,000.

Zealong exports to Taiwan, China and Europe.

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- Waikato Times

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