New packhouse proves its worth
New Zealand is experiencing huge interest in investment both nationally and internationally in summerfruit crops, particularly cherries. Business is booming in Central Otago where new cherry plantings are now leaping ahead of vineyard expansions.
Central Otago has around 1000 hectares of cherries planted and produces about 95% of national cherry exports New Zealand exported 4424 tonnes this year, according to Summerfruit New Zealand statistics.
Hortinvest Ltd director Ross Kirk says in the four years he’s been involved in Central Otago the cherry crop has trebled, with investment driven mostly by improved technology, niche marketing in Asia by Summerfruit exporters, and the Chinese market opening up to New Zealand cherry imports.
New Zealand’s crop timing is perfect for hitting the lucrative Chinese New Year market, he says.
Central Otago’s newest state-of the-art cherry packhouse and marketing company Pure Pac Limited recently ﬁnished its ﬁrst season operating out of its new 1250 sq metre packhouse in Bannockburn, near Cromwell.
Pure Pac is a cooperative – growing, packing and exporting premium quality cherries from its seven Central Otago shareholder orchards direct to the world.
The shareholders are all investors from around New Zealand and abroad, who own orchards in the Cromwell basin.
Challenged by scorching early and midsummer temperatures it was a testing season to get established but Pure Pac packed out 530 tonnes of cherries, some 80 tonnes more than initially budgeted.
The packhouse is designed to handle up to 1500 tonnes at full capacity.
Pure Pac’s packhouse features computerised stainless-steel sorting and packing machinery which is New Zealand made by Compac, and a Fachaux hydraulic separator to separate cherry bunches into singles.
The sorting machine has a dual purpose of sorting cherries into sizes and grades, as well as cooling the fruit right down from harvest temperature, which could be up to 25-28 deg Celsius – to cool storage temperature of below one deg C.
Massive computer power is used as every single fruit is digitally photographed 90 times – using infra-red and high deﬁnition technology to sort fruit for size, ﬁrmness, colour and grade.
The aim is to get fruit harvested, packed and shipping to export markets within 24 hours with minimal handling.
Pure Pac contracted Wanaka based horticultural management company Hortinvest Ltd to project manage from the installation and commissioning of the equipment, through to marketing, including packhouse management, compliances, export solutions, logistics and packaging.
The Hortinvest team of Ross and Sharon Kirk was the perfect choice to achieve vertical integration from source to market.
Ross is a third generation orchardist who has grown and packed apples, pears, persimmons, feijoas, kiwifruit, citrus, stonefruit, squash, melons, maize, corn and strawberries in a previous life be fore he was contracted to help set up the CherryPac packhouse in Cromwell four years ago.
“If you need to put anything into a box, I can ﬁnd a way,” he says.
Meanwhile his wife Sharon has vast experience in developing packaging, branding, export market management, logistics and manages all of the compliance side of things.
Ross says there’s a tremendous amount of excitement in the Central Otago region around the prospects for further development of cherries and summerfruit.
He says that the traditional model of familyowned orchards sending cherries to a packhouse who work with their chosen exporters, is now giving way to a new model where investors own the entire process from growing to packaging and marketing offshore.
“In the old model the grower pays the packer and the exporter, and then gets what’s left over. “The vertical integration way they’ve only got to make one proﬁt to make it all work.”
Ross says the future will see development of more and better rain and hail covers enabling better continuity of supply to market in a difﬁcult weather year.
Hortinvest grew out o f a need for investors with limited horticultural knowledge to be able to develop and manage horticultural properties using the knowledge and skills that this team has accumulated over their years in the industry.
“There is a misconception that anybody can grow cherries,” he says.
“It’s not rocket science, but when you try to grow commercially you need to ensure the basic husbandry is right. While the quality of the raw product is crucial, the postharvest handling and marketing is equally important to extracting maximum returns to the investor.”