Episode 16: A Fruitful Life
On the next episode screening May 31st at 7pm on TV ONE
A Fruitful Life
Imagine a Golden Queen peach, but one with a smooth skin like an apricot, coloured bright orange with red highlights, sweet, juicy and far more fragrant - and that, says Diana Baird, is a peacherine.
She and her husband Grant have the largest peacherine orchard in the country, and possibly the world.
Theirs is also New Zealand's last stone-fruit to ripen each year because the climate in the Kawhatau Valley, in the hills south-east of Taihape, means they don't harvest their fruit till at least mid-March.
But while that gives them a marketing edge, the weather on their high-altitude block also accentuates the risks involved with orcharding, such as the danger of frosts in spring when the fruit is setting.
Eighteen months ago, the Bairds' orchard was hit by a minus five degree frost in mid-November, which decimated the crop. Some trees broke from the weight of the ice on them.
"Growing fruit is a huge lottery," Grant says. "Nothing is guaranteed until you've actually sold the produce."
But this year everything's gone their way and they thinned, harvested and packed a bumper crop of peacherines that were sold in supermarkets and produce stores around the North Island.
The Bairds rely on a big seasonal workforce to get their fruit off the trees and into shops, using a mix of locals and international travellers.
"A lot of them are the children of our neighbours, and I really like that," Grant says. "It's good for neighbourly relations."
Diana says she started out "doing the accounts" but is now more like the Chief Financial Officer.
She completed an MBA a few years ago and says that has added to her skill-set and to the Bairds' credibility in running what has become a multi-million dollar business.
The Kawhatau Valley is not a traditional fruit-growing area, but its horticultural potential was identified in the 1980s.
At the time, Grant and Diana were looking for additional income to supplement earnings from the traditional farming operation run by Grant's father Colin, so they went to a conference in Taihape focused on diversification of land use.
"They looked at the weather, soils, water supply, markets, labour and impact on communities and came back and said this region would be good for producing apricots, asparagus and garlic," Grant says.
After years of experimenting, Grant settled on peacherines and plums, and fruit-growing now brings in more than half the income earned from the Bairds' land.
The rest comes from sheep and beef and Grant structures his farming operation to fit in with the demands of the orchard.
"It's taken a long time to perfect it so that everything meshes without a conflict of resources, but it's working pretty well," he says.
His father Colin lives in Taihape these days but comes out to the farm at busy times to help with stock-work. He's delighted to see Grant bring a new enterprise to the property and hopes his grandson Hamish, one of Grant and Diana's four children, might do the same.
Hamish is interested in starting an aquaculture venture on the property but knows he has a bit of work ahead of him.
"The door's most of the way open," Hamish says. "Mum's always said we had to come back with a good idea and a truck load of money. I've got the good idea but the money's taking a bit more time!"
To contact Grant and Diana Baird, email: email@example.com
To find out more about walks in the KawhatauValley, visit: www.kvw.co.nz
Post production manager