About M A Orchards

Damian Febery & Operations Manager Red Martin

Orchard Manager Damian Febery & Operations Manager Red Martin

A massive expansion is under way at a Timaru orchard as part of a concerted effort to ease a growing demand for honeycrisp apples in the United States.

M A Orchards is in the process of planting 20ha of the variety near Levels which adds to another 15ha planted in 2014, 15ha in 2013, and 30ha in 2012. Operations manager Red Martin said the aim was to have 100ha planted ‘‘and go from there’’.

The orchard exported 2000 bins to the United States this season and has scheduled 5000 bins to the same market in 2016.

‘We export it all to America. Everything we are growing is supplied to the States.’’

Mr Martin said the operation had the backing of Kiwi and American investors while taking advantage of cutting› edge technology in terms of production. Approximately 2900 – 3920 trees had been planted per hectare in the new paddock near Levels.

The flow-on effect of the increase in production would see about 140 staff employed at the orchard next year — up from 80 during harvest this year, he said. The operation employed 12 core staff and would be recruiting here and overseas for next season, he said.

‘We will utilise those wanting a working holiday visa,’’ Mr Martin said. ‘‘It’s the ideal scenario for itinerant [workers] wanting four to five weeks at max. The biggest challenge for us is getting it all harvested — it’s a four-week time frame.’’

Mr Martin said there was a huge demand for the apples in the US. The variety of apple was popular in the US and grew well in South Canterbury as it was a specific variety that required a cooler temperature, he said.

‘At the moment we’re not keeping up with demand. There’s a good-quality crop coming out of New Zealand and we’re filling a hole in the market but we’re nowhere close to filling it. ‘It’s the highest-paying apple variety in the world.’

Mr Martin relocated to Timaru, from Nelson, last year to work at the orchard. ‘‘I’ve been in the industry for about 23 years and started in it when I was 17. I got into it because I like the outdoors and did OK at horticulture at school. It’s a great place to work.’’

Mr Martin said a long-term goal for the business was to use harvest platforms, not ladders, for picking the apples — saving time and being more convenient for the pickers. Another plan was to build a packing factory in 2017, allowing the apples to be packed on›site instead of being transported to Nelson for packaging.