Irrigation New Zealand

Organic kiwifruit growers Mark and Catriona White won the won the Gordon Stephenson Trophy 2018 and are the National Ambassadors for Sustainable Farming and Growing. They also won the Bay of Plenty Ballance Farm Environment Award for their property Coastal Kiwis.

Ten years ago, the couple embarked on a quest to find an improved lifestyle for their family away from the city. Catriona’s parents offered the couple the chance to buy part of their organic dairy farm near Opotiki and develop it as a kiwifruit orchard. Their work and passion have transformed part of an organic dairy farm into a successful 7.5ha orchard. The award judges said that the concept of kaitiaki – acting as a guardian, protector and conserver – was evident in all aspects of the White’s business, and that the couple took every opportunity to try and learn new things.

Mark is actively involved in the Tablelands Irrigation Scheme. The Whites also won the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Award, ZESPRI® Kiwifruit Orchard Award and the WaterForce Integrated Management Award. We spoke to Mark and asked him to share his approach to water use and environmental management.

What advice do you have for other irrigators about managing your water use efficiently?

Mark: Make every drop of water really count, by measuring everything! Invest in the best technology that you can afford to target the water application as efficiently as possible. We made the effort to understand the detail of what our system is capable of delivering through water application – and then we regularly monitor the performance of the system to ensure it is working as it should be. Sometimes the timed irrigation run delivers totally different amounts of water due to other users irrigating at the same time, which lowers pressure in the main supply lines. So that makes it so important for us to regularly assess the output of the system – and not just leave it on an automatic weekly cycle and assume the same amount of water is being delivered each time.

Regular maintenance of the orchard irrigation system is important for where we are – cleaning silt from lines and filters so that sprinkler efficiency is not compromised. Our policy is to water during the night as there is less wastage through evapotranspiration. We only water when we really need to and we use a variety of soil moisture assessment techniques to work out how much water we need to apply.

What other tips do you have for farmers and growers who want to improve their environmental performance?

Mark: Soil management is our top priority. We put a lot of effort into feeding our soil biology – and believe this really helps enhance our organic matter levels in our soil profile. We are really worm farmers – they help improve our soil structure and help feed our plants – we believe that the improved structure assists with soakage of the water at irrigation time.

We also have aimed to eliminate unnecessary tractor work from our orchard in an attempt to minimise soil compaction. We do that through minimal spraying and mowing – and we use a mob of sheep to graze under some of the vines during winter totally eliminating the need for any mowing for around five months of the year. We also try to keep a good amount of grass on our “orchard floor” during the summer season – we use regular canopy management to keep the kiwifruit vines as “open” as we can. This lets light through to the orchard floor so that the grasses can grow.