Kiwis have been enjoying fresh, locally grown strawberries in the depths of winter this year thanks to a high-value berry grower filling the market gap left by a strangled Australian supply chain. Sunrise Berries owner, Todd Feather, ventured into strawberry cultivation in 2014 when he bought a 200-hectare spread of land in Onewhero.
"I was introduced to a man selling tunnel house frames," Todd says. "He [later] introduced [me] to The Fresh Berry Company (Driscoll's), which has a license for its own berry genetics." Three years ago, in an eight-month, $3.5 million project, Todd established Sunrise Berries Ltd.
A nine-hectare area of land was set aside and converted into five hectares of strawberries and four hectares of raspberries – propagated in a hydroponic tunnel house operation. Tunnel houses protect the produce from the vagaries of the weather and provide the grower with greater consistency of production and income, Todd says.
Strawberries New Zealand chair and Whenuapai grower Tony Rakich says while only a small proportion of locally consumed strawberries are imported, out-of-season growers like Sunrise Berries are a benefit to the market. When it comes to raspberries, Sunrise Berries crops from October to December and then March to June. Todd says they are aiming to pick raspberries through the border seasons.
Last year, Sunrise Berries produced around 18 tonnes per hectare in raspberries and 50 to 60 tonnes per hectare in strawberries and exported three to four tonnes of strawberries too.