BHARAT BHANA – BHANA FAMILY FARMS
Bharat Bhana’s family have been growing potatoes and vegetables in Pukekohe since the late 1950s. Bharat grew up working on the Pukekohe farm before and after school, before leaving at the end of fifth form to work full time in the business. Bharat is a board member of Potatoes NZ and Hira Bhana & Co grow Ilam Hardy, Agria, Rua, Moonlight, Nadine, Swift and Angela potatoes on several farms around Pukekohe, Tuakau, Harrisville and Onewhero.
“Our philosophy is to grow crops which are sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Bharat said. “We aim to produce fresh nutritious food for our customers – our high-quality soil enables us to continue to grow nutritious potatoes all year round.”
Unfortunately, growers in the Pukekohe region, are now faced with the challenges of an expanding city. Hundreds of hectares of land in the area have been scheduled for urban development and farm expansion into the Waikato region is difficult with Proposed Plan Change 1 (PC1), which locks in a nitrogen allocation for the land. This can cause issues with land transitioning into horticulture production, as the prior allocation is often not enough to sustain crops.
Hira Bhana & Co place the utmost importance on sustainability, best practice, quality assurance, and environmental safety. Practices such as surface water runoff management, wheel track ripping after planting, reducing cultivation via minimal tillage practices, irrigation and fertiliser management, the use of cover crops and mulching all reduce erosion and nitrogen leaching and runoff. An integrated pest management plan helps reduce the use of pesticides, while soil quality monitoring ensures that changes in quality and suitability for crops can be managed.
ROBIN OAKLEY – OAKLEY’S
Oakley’s is steeped in family tradition. Robin Oakley is a fifth-generation farmer who has been growing vegetables from as early as he can remember. “By the time I was in Year 11 at high school, I had about three to four hectares of vegetable production going on. I could see an opportunity to expand my growing, and this appealed to me more than any other options,” said Oakley.
Oakley aims to provide the best quality of potatoes available as well as the most consistent. “Our pride and joy is our Oakley’s Golden Gourmet variety which is fast growing in popularity. Additionally, we grow Nadines, Désirées, Canberras, Agrias and Purple Hearts.” Oakley’s produces a vast variety of potatoes so that their customers can choose their potato based on what they plan to do with it.
Currently, Oakley’s operates in central Canterbury in Southbridge, Amberly and Hororata. As Oakley noted, “Our region is reasonably safe from bad growing conditions. The soil is naturally very easy to cultivate and fertile.” These conditions, along with the colder winters which keep away pests, help Oakley’s potatoes grow in as natural a way as possible.
Oakley’s is also committed to working sustainably and have refined their methods to be efficient and effective as well as clean and green.
A.S. Wilcox and Sons Ltd was established in 1954 and has continued to grow and market potatoes, onions and carrots ever since. Wilcox grows a mix of varieties that are “free market” available to all growers, such as Agria, Nadine, Rua and Red Rascal, as well as varieties that are exclusive and aligned with Wilcox branded products. Wilcox is always looking for new varieties that have superior taste and yield
The company grows produce across New Zealand. Each region has an optimal growing period which is reflective of weather, soil temperature, rainfall and soil type. By way of example, Wilcox only harvests potatoes out of Ohakune during June, July and August because the soils are volcanic, whereas Pukekohe is clay loam and when wet becomes very sticky and not ideal for harvesting.
The job of the grower is to work with nature to deliver a high yielding, high quality, tasty crop that customers love – easier said than done. The potato grower has to combat seed quality issues, soil disease pressures, extreme weather patterns, water rights, harvest damage rates. There are also land rotation factors that come into play – potatoes are not planted in the same field for more than two years in a row.
As a family business, investing in the health of the soil and environment is all-important. Wilcox is continually innovating and trialling new methods to ensure a strong holistic approach to the way it grows and produces its potatoes, onions and carrots. Wilcox farms are lined with plants that host and enhance natural predators – bees and other insects deal to the nymphal stages of potato pests such as aphids. This leading-edge approach results in minimal use of insecticides, which are only used in a targeted way. Soil erosion prevention techniques also prevent erosion throughout the farms.