Wetland project a focus for Hinemoa Produce owners

Vikki and Chris Nicholson’s successful multi-faceted family farming operation, Hinemoa Produce, has resilience built into it from the ground up. Spanning 283 hectares, of which 200 hectares are owned and the rest leased, the majority of the business is located on the home farm at Pukekawa.

The operation comprises growing potatoes and onions, for export and domestic markets, and barley and lucerne. The latter two crops are part of the family’s desire to care for their land so it can continue to produce distinctive, flavoursome food. They also provide additional and sometimes unexpected income streams.

“Lucerne can be planted for up to eight years to rest the land. We didn’t have a particular plan of what we would do with the crop but by chance, we had a conversation with a buffalo farmer in Clevedon who now takes 80% of the lucerne we grow. Lucerne can be a tricky crop but it grows well here, and we get up to six cuts a season,” explains Vikki.

The family farms are in a highly productive soil category, making them even more intent on looking after it to the best of their ability. They prefer, when possible, to let the rotation crops do the work with the root systems rejuvenating the soil.

The rotation crop is then mulched in and compost – a mix of primarily mushroom and chicken litter – applied. Annual soil tests inform them of which elements are required in different areas of the farm.

A recent resilience project has established several wetland blocks on the property totalling 3.5 hectares. The area has been planted by NativeAwa with a variety of natives that thrive in the area including manuka, kanuka, toetoe, flax and kahikatea.

“We are just above the Waikato River so the wetland acts as a filter and slows down erosion. It has also created a habitat for wildlife as well,” explains Vikki.

“It’s very rewarding to have your product on the shelf and to have people ring up and ask where they can buy it.”

The family has been long-term custodians of the land with son Tom being the fourth generation. Tom is a crop operations manager and at 23 already has a team of around six.

“He’s been on the farm his entire life and got a Bachelor of Horticultural Science from Massey. We’re extremely proud and grateful that he sees this as a genuine career path. If you look around a lot of the growers in this area have struggled with succession.”

“Farming is hard. It requires a lot of hours, dedication and financial risk. You have to be passionate and really want to do it and he’s an integral part of our business.”

Hinemoa Produce also has its own pack house so the Nicholson’s can grow, pack and distribute all their products supplying local wholesalers including MG in Hamilton and Auckland. There is Hinemoa Cleanfill, which offers a site for contractors to tip uncontaminated soils/clay and rock from construction and building sites.

“The gullies of the farm are unproductive areas that historically have been grazed. We saw an opportunity to fill them with soil so we can eventually crop there.”

Vikki says that the family continues to find growing produce a satisfying business. A recent event run by Rural Support Trust Waikato resulted in Hinemoa Produce being judged best potato in a blind tasting of 10 growers in the Franklin area.

“It’s very rewarding to have your product on the shelf and to have people ring up and ask where they can buy it. I used to even get lovely handwritten letters such as ‘I just bought a bag of your potatoes and they’re the best potatoes I’ve ever had’. Nothing beats feedback like that.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2024 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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