A smarter way to grow manuka

A smarter way to grow manuka
Patrick Murray showcasing his bare-root manuka seedling trials.

Tararua based Murrays Nurseries is developing a system to produce manuka plants the same way that pinus radiata plants have traditionally been grown.
The system sees manuka plants grown as bare root stock (produced out in the open field) as opposed to in controlled indoor conditions in plastic containers.
Company owner Patrick Murray says that the results are a reduction in cost to produce manuka plants:
“By growing manuka as bare root stock we can reduce transport and handling costs by as much as 40% as the stock is lighter and less bulky. Planters can also plant more quickly and take stock into difficult country more easily,” he explains.
The development of the system allows Murrays Nurseries to produce stock more rapidly in bulk, which has serendipitously coincided with an increased interest in manuka, says Patrick.
“Government is focused on planting natives in its One Billion Trees Programme, farmers are using manuka as a land management tool and the honey industry wants to plant more manuka.”
He says that research and development is on going to improve growing systems and genetics. Trials have indicated that there is no difference in establishment rates between bare root and container methods. “In some instances bare root outperforms container stock,” says Patrick. For farmers, manuka represents new opportunities:
“Because manuka has the potential to grow to more than five metres high it qualifies for carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme. It can be used for riparian planting and with the honey industry has the potential to earn income faster than forestry blocks. Demand for land to plant manuka by the honey industry has seen increased competition for land between this industry and the forestry industry.”
Manuka can also be used on farms to complement income generated from pinus radiata plantations.
Murrays Nurseries predominantly supplies high-quality radiata pine seedlings to large-scale forest owners with the seedlings grown on demand and to exacting specifications. Patrick took over the company, started by his parents, in 2011 and has focused on developing smarter and better ways of doing things including investing heavily in new technology.
Virtually all aspects of the operation are automated and he has had equipment specifically designed for Murrays Nurseries including seed sowing machinery with GPS for greater accuracy. This can ensure positioning of seed down to 20mm accuracy so lines can be repeated from one year to the next.
This allows for the automation of other processes such as root pruning, topping and spraying.
The results are obvious: while it took 74 hours to prepare and sow a 1.5ha block in the 1970s it now takes six hours as a single pass. Murrays Nurseries incorporates 19ha of land and 10ha of leased land.
Patrick is in the process of securing a further 8.5ha of leased land to grow the business. Murrays Nurseries is growing ten million seedlings this year and capacity is 10-11 million.
By leasing more land Patrick is targeting eventual production of 15 million.
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