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Organic humble heroes: New Zealand’s Whitfield Organics

Organic farmers are a small but growing sector in New Zealand (Aotearoa by its M?ori name). Considering consumer trends and the recent law changes, it’s time to “hero” the industry, writes Gemma Carroll, Communications & Engagement Officer at Potatoes New Zealand in a recent article.

Demand for organics is increasing, Gemma says, pointing out that the U.S. organics market is currently worth more than NZ$70 billion, and the EU organics market is worth around NZ$65b. New Zealand organics saw the sector grow 30 per cent between 2015 and 2018 to be worth more than $600m.

Not long ago, Gemma headed over to Clive, near Hastings, to meet with Hawkes Bay organic grower Brad Whitfield. Brad is a fourth generation grower who still shares some of the work with his 80 year old dad Dave. Whitfield Organics has been providing certified organic produce to market for 20 years and the family has been growing food for 60 years.

Whitfield Organics crop 50 hectares with 18 hectares in potatoes. Almost half of the potato crop goes to Pitango and Proper Crisps. Yields have been good this season with a hot Summer and there’s about 600 T of spuds harvested all up each year. Potato varieties grown are Agria, Moonlight, Nadine, Van Rose and Purple Heart.

There have been huge hurdles, especially in the early days, where Whitfield’s lost 30 hectares of potatoes to blight, influenced by poor product advice at the time. Psyllid has been an issue in the past, but Brad acknowledges a reduction in the pest since the neighbouring introduction of Tamarixia, which knocked the population on it’s head in a year. Tuber Moth has flourished this season with dry soils, but can be managed with watering. Powdery scab can be managed by using mustard crops to naturally fumigate the soil.

Gemma writes that organic farming is as busy and time-consuming as any other method but may offer a certain kind of satisfaction for those wanting an added sense of kaitiakitanga or stewardship for the whenua (Maori word for earth) and wai ora (water, both as a resource and as an essential part of the environment that provides sustenance for life).

Read Gemma Carroll’s full article on the Potatoes NZ website here
Photo: Brad Whitfield
Gemma Carroll can be reached at [email protected]

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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