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Couple committed to a quality operation

Liki Udam Apr 4
R J Flowers produces both green and gold kiwifruit, jazz and envy apples and the traditional pears packhams, beurre bosc and winter nelis.

Horticulture is in the blood of John and Wendy Evans who manage R J Flowers Orchard, a family owned operation first started by Wendy’s father, Ron Flowers in 1968.

On both sides of the family they trace back generations working on the land and this is something John is extremely proud of.

“We go back to the early 1900’s on this land. This area has very good soils and a climate that suits growing crops and fruit,” says John.

Today, the company has 70 canopy hectares of orchards between all its blocks.

John’s been involved in the company since the mid-80’s, following years of growing ground crops. Initially Ron leased a quarter acre of land for 1 pound ($2) at the time to grow onions.

The need to diversify saw the planting of apples, pears and kiwifruit.

“It means we are growing over the 12 month cycle and makes the business more viable.”

R J Flowers produces both green and gold kiwifruit, Jazz and Envy apples and the traditional pears Packhams, Beurre Bosc and Winter Nelis.

“We switched to Jazz and Envy apples because the whole structure of marketing and pricing was better managed, given there is strong control over who can grow them.”

John says their belief in aligning themselves with organisations within the industry who are focussed on getting the best value for growers and supplying top quality produce to the market has been pivotal to the success of the company.

That and a lot of hard work and attention to detail with issues such as care of staff employed to pick and process the fruit has put R J Flowers on a strong footing.

John is passionate about the workplace integration of both local workers and workers recruited from the Pacific under the RSE scheme.

When Business Central spoke with him he was in the process of organising accommodation on site for their RSE workers for this season’s harvest.

Provision of on-site accommodation is now a requirement by Government and it has been a massive investment for John and Wendy.

“We’re required to house our staff because the current policy no longer allows seasonal workers from overseas to be housed in standard rental accommodation.”

John and Wendy are, in effect, creating a mini-village inside their orchard with purpose built self-contained units being assembled off-site. It’s an exciting development for their business and will future-proof their operation.

With New Zealand’s near-full employment in most industries the couple rely on their loyal team of workers from the Pacific year in year out. John can’t speak highly enough of their work ethic.

“They are smart, capable and very hard working men who value their opportunity to work with us and support their families back home.”

And that care goes beyond provision of a supportive working environment for the team as this example demonstrates.

“We had a worker with us who became unwell. He needed surgery and wasn’t entitled to use our public health system so we set about creating a fund through Pick Hawke’s Bay, an organisation of growers we belong to, that meant we could have him taken care of in a private hospital in Auckland. That was such a wonderful thing to do for him.”

Pick Hawke’s Bay is a not-for-profit organisation which was established to assist its members with supplying horticultural and viticultural seasonal workers through Immigration New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.

For the past decade Pick Hawke’s Bay has established relationships with people from Vanuatu, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Nauru.

John says without access to these workers the entire sector would be at risk.

Provision of accommodation on the scale John and Wendy are supplying is not the only major capital investment the couple have undertaken.

“Five years ago we were outsourcing our storage and we realised we needed to have our own CA storage capacity, so we converted our stores over the last four years.

“Today we have the best CA storage technologies and its meant we have much better control of consistency of quality.”

Today, John says the focus is on growing volumes produced and processed.

“It’s a good industry to be involved in, even though there have been massive changes to cope with.

“I’m proud of what we have achieved and I’m very respectful of all the work undertaken by earlier generations to create the business that we have today.”

 

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