12 January 2021
The proof is in the potatoes at Oakley’s Premium Fresh Vegetables when it comes to a successful and innovative approach to growing consistently high-quality vegetables.
While the team is getting excellent results across the range of vegetables it produces on 450ha in Canterbury, there has been a 15 percent increase in potato yield over the past four years – and not at the expense of the environment. Oakley’s is a main supplier of potatoes, beetroot, pumpkin and broccoli to one of the South Island’s biggest food chains and it won a suite of awards at the 2020 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Judges of the awards programme, that is run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, praised the business’s innovative approach – among other things. Owner Robin Oakley’s aim is to get the best yields with the least impact on the environment and – to monitor environmental impact – land is e-mapped. This gives the team highly accurate measures of soil variability and can allow more targeted applications of phosphate, Lime and Nitrogen. “The e-mapping, combined with regular soil testing, lets us fine-tune what we’re doing.
Oakley's extensively use soil moisture probes in their crops that can be monitored in real time remotely to best manage irrigation requirements. “It’s reasonably straightforward but a lot of people haven’t done it in the past – either because the technology wasn’t there or it just wasn’t the done thing. All the technology validates what we’re doing. “Everything we do has an environmental motivation as well as a financial one. If you’re in tune with the environment, you can get a consistently high-quality crop – the two go hand-in-hand.”
Measure, observe and evaluate – rinse and repeat Their approach includes trialling new things and fine-tuning – all based firmly on a foundation of constant measuring, observing and evaluating. “We measure exactly what’s harvested in every paddock so we know if we’ve had an improvement,” Robin says. “The hardest part is collecting the outcome data – you’re busy and moving onto the next thing so it’s easy to not follow through. But that data shows us exactly where we’re getting improvements. You have to be quite disciplined but that value goes on the bottom line.” Robin says the technology they use has paid for itself through returns, plus the tools provide hard data for discussions around how production impacts the land.
“We can prove how we’re minimising impact. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for having good, healthy soil so we do everything we can to look after it.”
- Measure, observe and evaluate
- Try new things
- Keep fine-tuning your approach based on data
2020 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards
Run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the Ballance Farm Environment Awards recognise and celebrate good farm practices that promote sustainable land management. In 2020, Oakley’s won the following Canterbury BFEA:
- Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award
- Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award
- Massey University Innovation Award