Whitehall Fruitpacker’s owner Mark Gardiner shares his experience as an organic kiwifruit grower

We met with kiwifruit orchard owner and operator Mark Gardiner of Whitehall Fruitpackers to talk about how he got into the kiwifruit growing business, the challenges he came across and how he has adapted to new technology and changing industry practices.

What inspired you to become an orchardist?
I have always loved the land. I was raised on a sheep and beef farm & have worked since I was a child. Even though I loved the sheep and beef farming industry I became disillusioned with the lack of income to be derived at the time and thought there must be a better way of intensifying land use to make a living. Kiwifruit was the answer.

How have you adapted to the change in industry practice over the years?
I have learned along the way, soaked up knowledge where I could find it and asked for help. The school of hard knocks played a part with the learning process, especially with the virtual collapse of the industry in the late 80s forcing us to adapt our methods. Zespri has also played a key role allowing the growers to concentrate on growing.

What would be your advice to someone who is new to Kiwifruit?
Attention to detail, timeliness is critical, efficiency and quality inputs. Get the right advice – sharing of knowledge is important and an integral part of the industry’s long term success and Zespri is also there to help utilise resources. Quality must come first and speed second.

What is the key difference between organic and non organic kiwifruit?
Organics is about working with nature to enhance the soil life, which leads to sustainable production. You must be a good steward of the land. Shelf life is longer in organics and fruit loss is lower in comparison to non-organic.

More fruit is grown conventionally than organically however the natural advantage is the quality of the fruit in an organic system. Consumers are now asking the questions: “where was this fruit grown?”, “how was it grown?”
Sustainable practice in growing food is becoming important to consumers and organic systems provide this.

What are the challenges facing the industry?
Keeping up with the growth and marketing in the industry is one of our major challenges. Finding labor to meet the demands is a current issue and mechanisation and technological advancement will be critical for post harvest operations to help fill these labour shortages.

You have been using Revital compost for 8 years now what differences have you noticed since you started applying compost?
The soil has become more friable, we have better quality topsoil and more worm activity (bio activity). You can feel the difference in soil quality when you walk on it.
2Dimensional being conventional versus 3Dimensional being organic. You also have more understanding of your soil rather than it just being a chemical carrier. By using Revital Compost our fruit is healthier, has a good shelf life and, as a result, profits have improved.

Mark Gardiner owner and operator of Whitehall Fruitpackers and Revital Shareholder.