Canterbury rural property identified for potential diversification to horticulture
July 2024

Canterbury rural property identified for potential diversification to horticulture

Land use could become more diversified in Canterbury if a handful of recent sales signals the start of a trend.

With corporates like Talleys, McCains, Turners and Growers, Rockit and LeaderBrand all taking an interest in horticulture in the region, PGG Wrightson Real Estate Sales Manager, North Otago/Mid-South Canterbury Calvin Leen says some sales in the past few months have been motivated by the opportunity for different crops.

“In areas that meet the criteria around water, temperature, and soil types, some dairy land has been identified for its horticulture potential, particularly apples,” he says.

While pip fruit development has been the object for the purchases to date, FruitFed Area Sales Manager for the region Blair Murdoch, who is advising on several new developments, says Canterbury’s horticulture options go broader.

“Greater Canterbury presents an excellent opportunity. As a region, it has strong criteria to support horticulture, including consistent weather patterns, large parcels of flat land, and reliable irrigation schemes.

“Other than sub-tropical varieties, you can grow most things here. While frost used to be an issue, as it is now possible to deal with that mechanically or by sprinkler irrigation, meaning those conditions are no longer a serious impediment for most horticulture. Canterbury’s good variation of soil types enables establishment of several different species including apples, blackcurrants, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet corn, potatoes, carrots and onions. Some developers are even looking at hops.

“While infrastructure such as packhouses is lacking at present, that is changing and should ramp up, if and when more horticulture opportunities proceed,” he says.

Calvin Leen says several significant national horticulture brands are showing an interest.

“One key brand is shifting from Marlborough, selling land there for conversion to viticulture, with a view to switching those operations to Canterbury. Others are spreading the risk, rather than concentrating all activities in a small number of districts, which can be problematic as we saw last year with Cyclone Gabrielle.

Potatoes SI

“Land use change in Pukekohe, where properties traditionally growing vegetables are selling at elevated prices for residential subdivision, is also a factor, leading to the relocation of that production.

“In addition, with its recent purchase of a Central Canterbury dairy property, a leading investment fund is diversifying its agribusiness portfolio. Intending to plant part of this farm in pip fruit in the coming years, this is the first foray into horticulture in this region for such a significant investor,” he says.

Blair Murdoch sees positives for the environment and the local economy.

“For horticulture, precise nutrition is applied through fertigation. Rather than putting on large quantities of urea, it just goes on around where the plant’s roots are situated. That means changing from dairy to horticulture has the potential to reduce the incidence of nitrates to groundwater.

“In addition, the proximity of some of the country’s fastest-growing towns is a plus. Rolleston, Ashburton and Timaru, as well as Christchurch, are all situated near where most of this development is likely to occur, meaning a pool of labour is on the doorstep,” he says.

Several prominent Mid and South Canterbury cropping, arable and dairy farmers are also looking at, or have already begun diversification into horticulture.

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