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2 November 2018

New era for Waipopo pipfruit

The name Waipopo Orchards is well-known in South Canterbury and wider afield, particularly for their delicious export Honeycrisp apples, which are so well suited to the cooler South Island conditions.

New owners took over the established 80 ha operation in December 2017 from Waipopo founders Danny and Peter Bennett, with General Manager Andrew Forward starting in April this year. Andrew has his own heritage in the growing sector – his father was a Hawke’s Bay apple grower for whom Andrew worked during his school years and later as the Operations Manager. Until recently he ran alarge horticultural contracting/labour force company with teams working in Hawke’s Bay apple blocks, Marlborough and Central Otago vineyards and Gisborne citrus.

The role at Waipopo saw him lease out his own 3 ha Hawke’s Bay apple block and shift to Timaru, bringing him full circle back to pipfruit growing full-time. Andrew and his team of 12 full andpart-time  personnel have been flat-outas they head into Andrew’s first growing season at Waipopo. “We’ve undertaken a substantial amount of redevelopment here already,” he says, “removing older trees like the Cox’s Orange. We now have about 8 ha to be replanted with dwarfing rootstocks and new varieties – 10,000 Galaval have been  ordered for 2020, we’re trialling Dazzl and Posy (TCL3) apples, and Piqa® Boo® pears.The prospects look good for this new pear variety in South Canterbury. I think this district has a good opportunity because fireblight risk is a lot lower here than in Hawke’s Bay for example.”

Access to new trees is the defining factor on how quickly the redeveloped blocks can be progressed, but Andrew has plenty to get on with as the second-biggest Honeycrisp grower inNew Zealand. The operation includes an export-accredited packhouse making the most of the opportunity to supply the US market in their off-season with this variety that has a relatively short cool-store life. Considered a super-premium variety, Honeycrisp apples attract a price premium of 2-4 times over other varieties in the US. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of going into the new season. We’ve restructured many of the trees, especially the older Gala, Braeburn and Red Delicious plantings, during  inter pruning. The owners have invested a lot in new equipment and tractors, three new sprayers from Fruitfed Supplies, updating irrigation, etc.

“The new owners have seen the potential with Honeycrisp and new varieties of apples, as well as the Piqa Boo pear. So first, we want to get the orchard operating the way we like it over the next couple of years and lift production, then secondly, redevelop those areas with the new rootstocks and varieties, in a mix of intensive 2D and 3D systems.” Andrew has a long-standing relationship with Fruitfed Supplies. “Christchurch based Rob Wards is our current Fruitfed representative, and I’ve been a Fruitfed client for years with our family orchard and my own orchard. My father was also a Fruitfed client for many years before that – our original rep was Kevin Manning, who’s now R&D Manager for PGG Wrightson and Fruitfed Supplies.”

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