Inspired by his grandfather and father’s achievements on the diverse Bay of Plenty farm that has been the family’s pride and joy for over 100 years, Alex Griffin’s mission is to continue the pioneering spirit, leaving the farm even better than he found it.
“It’s purely through dumb luck that I’m farming here – the decision to farm here was made long ago. I’m very fortunate to be here – anything grows here including the weeds, and the weather is pretty good most of the time.”
Located in the small locality of Rangiuru, in the hills behind Te Puke, the farm was given the name Rough Ridge by Alex’s great grandfather and great uncle because of the very long ridge that it sat on.
Passing through successive generations it became known as Griffin Farms but upon taking stewardship of the farming operation Alex now operates under Rangiuru Ridge Ltd.
Alex’s father and step-mother, John and Sandra, made the decision to step back from farming operations, though Alex still defers to his father for mentoring support, making use of his wealth of knowledge when the need arises.
From simpler days when the farming enterprise was dairy and then sheep and beef, the farm’s diversity now includes 18.4 hectares of green kiwifruit under Alex’s control, with 25 hectares under a long-term lease to Seeka NZ to develop Kiwifruit and avocado.
Sixty hectares are planted in radiata pine forestry and the dairy herd has recently been reduced from 510 cows to 360 with 80 replacement heifers, enabling a further 30 hectares of marginal land to be planted in pine.
Recognising that horticulture offers the most profitable option for the area, Alex has invested in 10 hectares of avocado development that he will oversee.
“The avocados are very much my baby – I think they’re the future. We had trees going in September with shelters and contouring.”
In total, the farm operation encompasses 413 hectares.Revenue wise, kiwifruit is currently the largest part of Rangiuru Ridge’s operation, with Alex’s father and grandfather, Bob Griffin, having played key roles in the industry.
“We weren’t the first in New Zealand to grow kiwifruit but we were early adopters when Soldier Fly swept through the Bay of Plenty in epidemic numbers in the late 1960s, reducing grassland carrying capacity. My grandfather had to sell a lot of cattle, so he searched for something else to invest in on the farm.”
A small pocket of Kiwifruit was being grown near the Griffin property and successfully exported and in 1969-70 Bob decided to plant 50-acres of Kiwifruit.
“This was the first Kiwifruit planted on Rangiuru Road and the largest commercial planting of its time – Bob’s sanity was questioned by a few. There’s so much risk in developing a large-scale kiwi fruit operation – it requires a lot of capital. Putting myself in Bob’s shoes – all he’d known was sheep and beef and dairy cows – It was a very bold and risky venture and a lot of work.”
The early blocks were mostly rooted cuttings in the field in quite large blocks of 1.5 hectares with poplar shelter that had been planted the previous year
. Posts, wirework, grafting and care was done by the farm staff between other livestock work.
Bob’s courage was rewarded with becoming one of the founding directors of Bay of Plenty Fruit Packers and later a four-year directorship in the Kiwifruit Marketing Board, with one-year deputy chairman.
During this period, Bob travelled with Board chairman Ian Barnett and CEO Don Brash on an extensive promotion and investigation tour to Japan, Italy, Germany and England, looking for new markets and forging relationships.
In 1977-78 John entered into partnership with his father Bob with the livestock but the lure of Horticulture became an increasing focus for John.
“Dad planted a large Kiwifruit nursery and later planted 3,500 of the best plants on land that was an airstrip, starting his 9.6 hectare Kiwifruit Orchard and learning from Bob’s early planting experience. Dad’s block reached full canopy closure in five years with more shelter, which was gradually removed as it competed with the kiwifruit plants, until the block was 20 rows wide.”
Bob concentrated his efforts on his 17hectares of green kiwifruit, while John ran all the livestock and his side of the orchard.
During 2010 the PSA disease struck the Bay of Plenty Kiwifruit – the epicentre of the disease being less than one kilometre from the Griffin’s orchard.
“Our plants were infected and we came within one day of MAF cutting the top of our entire 27 hectares of green kiwifruit! We did go on to remove seven hectares of lesser producing vines, returning that land to dairy grazing and maize cropping.”
Bob passed away in July this year aged 93 with 92 and a half of those well lived and in good health.Reflecting on what he most wants to achieve Alex says,
“I want to be able to stand back when I am 60, 70, 80 like my father and grandfather can and see the difference I’ve made.”
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