A Whangarei berry operation says loan funding from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund will help Northland become the hydroponic horticultural capital of New Zealand.
The $2.37 million PGF loan was announced today by the Minister of Regional Economic Development Shane Jones.
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It will allow Maungatapere Berries to create the first centre for growing excellence in the New Zealand hydroponics horticulture industry.
The company, owned by the Malley Family, is to develop the first phase of a high-tech education, training and employment operation, as part of a 20ha hydroponic orchard expansion, doubling its workforce to 360 over the next five to eight years.
As new generation growers, Patrick and Rebecca Malley say they are excited at the potential of hydroponics as one of the greatest untapped opportunities for the future of sustainable horticulture in Northland.
"Our plan, as part of the PGF partnership, is to further build on the extensive work the family's business has already undertaken in hydroponics providing permanent employment opportunities for locals in horticulture," they said.
Patrick Malley said they aim to use it as a template designed to create better paying jobs and lifelong careers for young Northlanders as well as improving the social and economic benefits for local communities.
The hydroponic orchard will focus on berry fruit and other fruit varieties that flourish when grown hydroponically in Northland's warm semi-tropical climate.
He said the hydroponic centre of excellence will become a sustainable farming reference site for Northland growers with the aim of introducing and increasing the production of hydroponic fruit crops in the region and improving the economic opportunities for the Northland region.
The Malley family first started developing part of their 37ha kiwifruit orchard into a hydroponic berry operation four years ago, focusing on growing high-quality good tasting fruit to supply the New Zealand domestic market all year round.
They have continued investing and expanding their operation, which now employs 45 full-time staff and an additional 180 staff during the peak season, and includes an advanced packhouse servicing the domestic market, with future plans to export.
Malley said using new technology means the potential to develop a large environmentally sustainable horticultural industry that supports real growth in living wage employment and social equality for Northland.
"Protected cropping of fruit and vegetable crops, grown under covers and using hydroponic feeding systems is a fast-growing part of the horticultural industry producing high-value crops, without negatively impacting the local climatic and environment, which also require a large stable skilled labour force."
The couple's achievements were recently recognised by becoming the Supreme Winner at the Northland Balance Farm Environment Awards, bringing home 5 additional category awards in the process, as well as at the inaugural MPI Good Employer with a Highly Commended award for their employee development program.
Malley, who won Young Horticulturalist/ Young Grower of the year in 2014, and won the Westpac Excellence in Business large business award in 2014, runs the operation with his wife Rebecca and his parents Dermott and Linzi Malley.