The first commercial apple and grape harvest in three years is now underway at Craigmore Sustainables’ new Springhill orchard and vineyard in Central Hawke’s Bay.

Craigmore, the largest diversified rural investment company in Aotearoa New Zealand, expects to harvest 8,000 bins of Breeze, Rockit, Dazzle, Envy, Red Sonya, Lady in Red and JuGala apples at Springhill during the season.

Springhill’s apple orchard is the largest fully netted pip fruit site in New Zealand. The team has applied an innovative ethos to many tasks such as irrigation, spraying, mowing and combined with a intensive planting strategy this is expected to see Springhill produce over 100 million apples annually at peak production in several years.

Ben James, Business Manager at the 179 canopy hectare orchard near Ongaonga, said it was heart-warming to see fruit picking in full swing following the devastating impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle on the region.

“We have more than 110 people from across Hawke’s Bay busy working on the harvest here. There’s a great atmosphere and a lot of positivity. For us, it’s a clear indication of how the horticulture sector and the local community are focused on recovery and regeneration following the impacts of the cyclone.”

The Springhill Farm site was purchased by Craigmore in and converted from pastoral farming and annual cropping to the apple orchard and at least 156 canopy hectares of vineyard. It has 29 full time employees and is playing a key part in Craigmore’s strategy to build a diversified business of the best of New Zealand orchards across a range of fruits, including apples, kiwifruit, and wine grapes.

Grapes will also be harvested at Springhill over the coming days, with the first vintage of 25 tons of Sauvignon Blanc grapes considered to be in excellent condition.

Craigmore Sustainables chief executive Che Charteris said the company has already invested $55.5 million in developing the Springhill property.

“We have been fortunate to have escaped relatively untouched from the cyclone except for our Gisborne orchard where we’ve suffered some losses of trees and vines.

Springhill draws its labour from as far south as Dannevirke and as far North as Napier. It has a strong focus on a supportive culture and on contributing to the community by promoting the development of local people through peer-to-peer learning from experienced horticulturalists.

In 2022, this included graduating 11 rangatahi from Tū Te Wana – a foundational employment programme covering Level 2 NCEA and some Level 2 pip fruit qualifications, gaining work experience among the Springhill workforce and helping them to acquire additional skills such as their driver’s licence.

Meanwhile, Craigmore is harvesting red, gold and green kiwifruit at its orchards in the Bay of Plenty and Kerikeri, hop picking in Tapawera is almost done, and the flood-effected squash crop in Gisborne and Wairoa has been harvested and packed.

Published: 3 April 2023