DIY harvester boom for parsnip grower
Growing veges is certainly in the blood for Jeremy Mott, who operates Motts Premium Produce at Karioi, off SH 49 between Ohakune and Waiouru.
While just up the road his aunt and uncle grow carrots Jeremy’s passion lies with growing swedes and parsnips.
“We have always been here. Our washer shed was built 33 years ago and the area we grow in is perfect for swedes and parsnips,” Jeremy says.
These days all up about 55 hectares of these crops are grown, supplemented by a small amount of barley at times. In terms of volumes 500 tonne of parsnips are harvested for market each year along with 250 tonne of swedes.
The focus, Jeremy explains, is on growing premium grade parsnips, however a range of grades of parsnips are harvested each season with badly marked or twisted ones destined for stock feed.
“Since taking over six years ago our tonnage has increased. Before I started we hand-picked and it was very labour intensive so I set about designing and building a harvester in 2013 in our workshop, based on principles similar to the way carrots are harvested.”
When Jeremy’s father Craig decided he wanted to concentrate on farming the family’s 150 hectare sheep and beef farming operations on two separate blocks, Jeremy assumed control of the day to day operation of the market garden.
Having the harvester has meant that parsnip wastage has been drastically reduced. It also meant a complete change in the way the staff worked.
Instead of spending time harvesting then time washing and grading, the bulk of time is now spent indoors assessing and grading the vegetables; a much more efficient and effective way to produce maximum yield.
“We supply quite a few different markets but our biggest and long-term customer is Foodstuffs Fresh North Island. Most goes to Auckland from where it is distributed to the Foodstuffs’ chain of supermarkets.
When asked about the cycle of growing, tending for, harvesting and marketing their crops Jeremy says he doesn’t get much down-time though in March there is the opportunity to slow down a little.
Planting begins in September, working the ground up the previous month, then from September through November crops are planted with some additional swedes also planted in December. Harvesting begins mid to late February.
January and February cyclones didn’t help with parsnips tops battered and fungal diseases affecting the roots.
Mum Kandy describes the parsnip as a sexy vege, experiencing growing interest from the hospitality industries towards its use in fine cuisine, while swedes have gone largely under the radar.
This is changing though, with more TV chefs and food magazines reminding people of the versatility of the swede for summer and winter dishes.
“We add value for the consumer by providing recipes on our packaging and our website, after all, if people don’t know how to eat them, how can we expect people to buy them.”
Overall Motts Premium Produce plants over a 200 hectare area, using land it leases, to support healthy crop rotation and soil fertility.
“We try to keep the ground clean and not allow bugs to grow,” says Jeremy.
Helping Jeremy are three other full-time workers. Henry Te Huia has been with the business 25 years and manages the pack house staff, while Jeremy focuses on filling orders.
On top of this a further eight to 10 seasonal workers assist from March through September.
Two years ago the company began supplying Nelson based healthy food processing company Proper Crisps.
Parsnips are sent directly to the processing plant in Nelson where they are turned into delicious and healthy Parsnip Crisps.
“For those who don’t think they like parsnips, I can only say try these crisps, sold in supermarkets and independent stores all over the country in 100 gm bags. They are absolutely delicious.”