NZ sheep farmers diversify into cherries

Friday, 24 May, 2019

NZ sheep farmers diversify into cherries

Mt Pisa Station (pronounced “Py-sa”) owns 4600 hectares in the Central Otago region of New Zealand — all of which has access to the Clutha River via the Pisa Irrigation Scheme.

At the foot of the iconic Pisa Range, after which the station is named, there is a site that is gently sloping and perfectly suited to growing cherries, with free-draining soils. Currently used to graze sheep, fatten lambs and grow supplementary winter feed, this land is being set aside for a $15.5 million cherry venture by New Zealand horticultural specialist Hortinvest.

Mt Pisa Station manager Shane MacMillan said the family’s sheep and beef business would invest in the project, which would see 80 hectares of prime land produce premium quality cherries for export from 2021–2022.

Mt Pisa Station has been in MacMillan’s family since his grandfather started farming merino sheep in 1924. The cherry project will be its first foray into horticulture.

Shane MacMillan, Mt Pisa Station manager.

“In farming, diversification is always a good thing, although you are sometimes limited by what you can do, depending on the nature of your land,” MacMillan said.

“This is a decision made by our family with the help of our advisory board over some time, and has been driven by many factors, such as the need for succession planning.

“Cherry orchards are grown all around us and we know cherries from Central Otago deliver high returns on the global market. From an agricultural perspective, producing a cherry crop in three to four years is a short time frame.

“This type of diversification is not a decision we made lightly but we investigated it thoroughly and are excited about the future.

“There are other horticultural opportunities available to agriculturalists in New Zealand but Hortinvest’s model is unique and it’s hard to beat its depth of experience in cherries.

“There will be a period of adjustment and, from a farm management perspective, I will miss the land as this comes at a time of intense development, which has included land clearing, pasture renewal and subdivision. The consequence of this has been an increase in stock numbers and production. However, in the long term, various family members who live on the station will benefit from the cherry project,” he said.

Hortinvest is in the final stages of subscribing investors to two $15.5 million, 80-hectare projects in the Central Otago area. The other is at Lindis Peaks Station.

Hortinvest orchard and project manager Ross Kirk said both projects were nearly fully subscribed, following widespread interest from a range of individual, corporate and foreign investors.

“We’re now working with several major corporate funds and a foreign investor. A commitment from these will ensure the projects are fully subscribed and can proceed to the next stage of development. We expect to finalise these by next week’s deadline or early in June.”

Lindis Peaks Station farmers Lucy Annan and Simon Maling have also committed to invest in the Lindis River project.

The minimum investment in each project is $100,000, spread over four years, with the first cash called for on 30 June.

The expression of interest deadline for both projects closes on 31 May.

Kirk said that after 31 May, Hortinvest would form management companies, draw tree maps, lay irrigation and prepare the land for planting 14,000 trees — the first of 106,000.

Led by experienced horticulturalists Ross and Sharon Kirk, Hortinvest’s focus is on producing export-quality cherries and maximising returns to investors.

Hortinvest orchard and project managers Ross and Sharon Kirk.

The Hortinvest team has extensive experience exporting cherries to established and growing markets in Taiwan and China, and is developing new markets in India, Indonesia, Europe and the United States.

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