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Growing on the West Coast
Last week, after attending the NZ Horticulture Conference in Christchurch, I visited Karamea Growers who have 1.2ha of greenhouses growing loose and specialty tomatoes. There are three greenhouses on the property all with late summer or early autumn plantings. To get to Karamea from Christchurch we drove via Lewis Pass onto the West Coast. The trip took over five hours, but the stunning, changing scenery made the trip seem a lot shorter. The remote location of Karamea Growers is unique to any other growing operation in New Zealand. There are both advantages and disadvantages for this property, the obvious disadvantage being the distance to Christchurch the main market for the produce. It has just become routine for Tom, co-owner of the business, to transport the Tomatoes from Karamea to Westport twice a week in the winter and three times a week in the summer. The tomatoes are then transferred to a freight company which backloads their produce to Christchurch. Tom then backloads goods for the greenhouse and the community of Karamea, a population of approximately 500. The system works really well and offsets the cost of the transport, which makes the trip viable.
The remote location is one disadvantage, the other includes the climate. Light levels are low during the winter, Karamea is actually similar to Nelson in light hours, however there is a higher rainfall to contend with contributing to higher humidity’s to deal with. This makes advising here different to other locations and the close proximity to the Tasman Sea means storms and high winds are a constant threat. Travelling to Karamea, to advise, generally includes an early start to the day, two flights and a ninety-minute drive from Westport, it is possible to be on site by 2-3pm the same day. It is not hard to visit when the scenery is so breath taking, but there is a cost for such travel which makes using crop registration and technology available extremely important.
I have pointed out the downsides but the upsides far out way the downsides for growing in such a remote location. Attracting locals to work in the greenhouses has been of huge benefit for both Karamea growers and the community. Rochelle Trethowen, co-owner and Head Grower has a great and loyal team of local workers. The advantage, having long term staff is very valuable in helping the business maintain its success. Transport to and from work for most of the staff is easy with the town only a few kilometres from the greenhouse. It sure beats sitting in Auckland traffic! The primary energy being used to heat the greenhouses’ is coal, being so close to the raw resource has a large saving in the cost of transporting the coal. Controlling insects is still a battle but the amount of pressure, compared to other greenhouse growing areas, gives Karamea growers a real advantage for successful continued pest control.
It is truly a unique property, there is no other like it in New Zealand. Its stunning location, so close to national parks and beautiful West Coast beaches, is a huge attraction. There is no traffic congestion or a set of traffic lights in sight. Karamea Growers is a great example of how important and viable the greenhouse industry is not just in the larger centres but to our smaller communities.
I took this picture while we were driving through Lewis Pass last Wednesday.
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Article Written by Stefan Vogrincic, Consultant, Grower2Grower