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Meticulous Orchard Operation Supreme Winner in Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards

31 March 2011

Meticulous Orchard Operation Supreme Winner in Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards

A highly progressive horticultural enterprise has won the Supreme Award in the 2011 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Owned by Sue and Shane Culham and based at Glenbervie, east of Whangarei, Puripak Avocados Ltd is the first horticultural enterprise to win the supreme award in the six years the awards have been held in Northland.

At a Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) ceremony on March 30, Puripak also collected the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Habitat Improvement Award and the Massey University Discovery Award.

BFEA judges described Puripak as an excellent example of an enterprise that marries commercial viability with the need to preserve and improve the natural habitat.

The orchard was established in late 2004 with the planting of 550 Hass trees.

Sue Culham initially developed the orchard on a part-time basis but now works full-time on the property, employing some help.

She and Shane, who runs an engineering business in Whangarei, love the orchard and intend to make it a sustainable stand-alone business.

Totalling 14.3ha, Puripak has been carefully developed to protect the ancient puriri and taraire trees that are scattered around the property. Pockets of native bush have been restored and most are under QEII National Trust covenants.

Judges praised the decision to leave native trees among the orchard plantings.

They said the Culham’s meticulous management has resulted in exceptional tree size uniformity, zero plant mortality and excellent production across the entire orchard.

Production has been continuously above industry averages for trees of the same age.

BFEA judges also noted Sue’s personal development through horticultural education, saying her meticulous record keeping “helps make this a stand-out property”.

This includes the monitoring of fruit pests, irrigation, daily readings with an electronic weather station, annual irrigation water tests, harvest data, nutrient applications, market and packhouse analysis and input costs.

Sue is an AvoGreen-accredited owner/operator and this allows her to monitor the orchard for insect pests under the industry monitoring programme. She is also a Growsafe-accredited applicator.

She has completed Level 4 Certificate in Commercial Fruit Production Management, and is continuing her education with an extramural degree in horticulture from Massey University.

Since the first plantings, the Culhams have always used consultants to ensure the development of the lifestyle property as a viable and sustainable stand-alone commercial enterprise.

BFEA judges said the couple’s pest control is exemplary. The strategic placement of traps and bait stations has significantly reduced the pest populations to an extent that native bird life has returned to the native bush area.

The orchard has a river boundary and a stream, and Shane plans to make the river’s edge an indigenous tree park.

Puripak’s volcanic soil is ideally suited to the production and health of avocado. A soil test is taken annually and a recommended fertiliser programme is followed precisely.

Puripak Avocados was one of the first avocado orchards in Northland to become NZGAP compliant. The Culhams are also involved in new cultivar trial work.

Sue and Shane supply the engineering firm’s staff and a local day-care centre with avocados. Through Culham Engineering they have also set up an engineering department at Whangarei Boys High and an annual engineering apprentice scholarship.

They also sponsor Child Cancer in Northland, several hockey teams, rugby teams and the annual Culham Cup Tournament for school boys’ rugby.

A field day will be held on the Supreme Award winning orchard on April 14.

Other winners in the 2011 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards were:

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Nutrient Management Award; Mike Crum (manager)/Mike and Darien Angelo (owners)

LIC Dairy Farm Award; Neville Rule

Beef+Lamb NZ Livestock Award; Paul and Diane Baker (lessees)/Trevor and Leonie Bedggood (lessors)

Hill Laboratories Harvest Award; Mike Crum/Mike and Darien Angelo

PGG Wrightson Land & Life Award; Murray and Marcelle Douglas

Northland Regional Council Water Quality Enhancement Award; Neville Rule

For more information on the 2011 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact Stephanie Gordon, Northland BFEA regional coordinator, phone 09 432 0037 or emailnorthland@bfea.org.nz.

For more information on the New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust or the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact David Natzke, General Manager, New Zealand Farm Environment Award Trust, phone 07 834 0400, or email david.natzke@nzfeatrust.org.nz.