The journey to make a better life for himself and his family
Born in Shamchurasi, Punjab, India in 1968 Jai Shankar started his journey in life that eventually brought him to New Zealand, where he has become a very successful greenhouse cucumber and tomato grower. Jai now owns and leases over 1.2ha of greenhouses in the South Auckland region of New Zealand. He employs four full time workers.
Jai was educated in India and graduated from university with a Master’s Degree in Hindi (honours). Jai’s parents were involved in horticulture, they leased land and grew feed for cattle, as well as wheat in the Punjab province. Having this background and coming from a family that had ties with growing was instrumental in the career Jai would venture into.
In 1988, after Jai had completed his degree, he decided to travel and have an overseas experience in Europe. He lived in Greece from 1990 to 1993 where he worked on a farm growing Eggplants, Beetroot and Lettuce. Late in 1993 Jai left Greece and returned to India for three years where he was married and started his family. Three years later in 1996, Jai made the extremely hard decision to leave his family in India and go and work in Australia. He worked at a vineyard in Griffith, New South Wales. For the next four and half years until 2001 Jai lived without his family. At one stage he did not see his wife and children for two years. Jai then moved back to India. In 2003 he briefly came to New Zealand to learn more about the greenhouse industry and explore opportunities to settle here. Jai’s good friend Raj Sharma introduced him to the opportunities here growing in greenhouses. From that point Jai started the immigration process and permanently moved to New Zealand in 2005 where he leased his first greenhouse growing telegraph cucumbers.
Mainly Jai grows telegraph cucumbers but also grows two short term crops of tomatoes to supplement his rotation. The five properties he runs allows for continuity of supply into the market. Now having over 14 years’ experience growing in New Zealand Jai believes that if you don’t regularly clean your greenhouse and it’s surrounds that you will constantly be battling with fungal and insect issues. Regularly changing substrate is key for reducing fungal and bacterial issues. Jai is always looking for new products that are good for the crop’s health and new pest management tools. He understands the need to constantly stay in front of pest and diseases. Labour is an issue in Jai’s business, the shortage of workers and the continual increase in wages is a constant strain on profitability. Jai’s cucumbers are not affected by imports but since he has begun growing tomatoes has become aware of, and is concerned about, the importation of Australian tomatoes. Jai would like to ensure that NZ growers are protected from the importation of cheaper tomatoes from Australia.
Jai believes if new technology, like supplementary lighting, was more affordable it would be a technology he would like to invest in. He is also very interested in exploring automation opportunities. Jai sees a positive future for greenhouse growing here in NZ and is always looking for more greenhouse areas to lease.
Jai mainly grows telegraph cucumbers. This winter crop looks fantastic.
Jai has made huge sacrifices in his life and lived long periods away from his family to build a better future for them all. He and his family love living in New Zealand, which he describes as a multicultural country, and believes the lack of crime and lack of discrimination are huge positives. New Zealand has been able to give Jai this opportunity, but it really does demonstrate if you want something hard enough you can succeed. Well done Jai on your inspiring and motivational journey. I know I would definitely struggle with the option of living without my family for two years.
Cover photo above.