Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

The further North one travels in New Zealand, the warmer it gets and the earlier various fruit and vegetable seasons start.  Added to this generally accurate statement comes the existence  of micro-climates, pockets of climatic conditions which suit one crop or another.

When people hear Dargaville or Ruawai mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind are Kumara.  Not surprising, given that 95% of the country’s crop are grown in the area.  The dairy industry comes a close second and as one follows the winding road between the  Brynderwyns  turnoff and Ruawai, across one lane bridges and mangrove swamps and through stands of cabbage trees and cattle on open paddocks, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is it.  Kumara and milk.

Well, there is more; Ivan Reid’s pumkins, for example.  True, Ivan is predominantly a kumara grower and he grows a few other crops as well.  But pumpkins are Ivan’s passion. So much so, that he has built himself some quite extensive racking to cure his pumpkins.

Pumpkins Being Cured on Ivan Reid's Kaipara Property

As far as farms go, Ivan’s farm is an absolute delight to the eye.  Not only does he have his crop husbandry under control, in fact he is a bit of a semi-paranoic artist on that topic, but Ivan takes a holistic approach to maintaining his land and property.  There are no weeds sight, the driveways are beautifully maintained, as are the implement sheds and all tractors and assorted machinery are lined up with what could be mistaken for Prussian precision.

Consumers, wholesalers and retailers love growers like Ivan Reid.  The Ivans of this world take pride in their work, grow quality produce and care about their product up to the point where it sits on your and my dinner table.

And yet, Ivan and growers of niche crops like Ivan’s are scratching their head and are not entirely happy.  How could that be, I hear you ask.  Well, Ivan’s pumpkins are ready to be marketed when there are hardly any other quality pumpkins to be had.  Not only that, but the quality of Ivan’s pumpkins is very high, as he takes good care of them during the production and postharvest periods.  For these reasons, growers like Ivan feel that they should be adequately paid for their crops – adequately being defined as ‘a bit more’ than those growers who care less for their produce and therefore supply a crop of a generally lower quality. 

I don’t want to get into the ‘what constitutes quality’ debate at this point, but in summary, the Ivans of this world feel they deserve to be justly rewarded for their effort – otherwise they might as well give up growing produce and get into the dairy business.

The trouble with getting the money they believe they deserve is that the Ivans of this world are falling through the gaps of the produce industry’s floor boards so to speak.  They don’t grow enough to supply one of the supermarket chains for the entire season.  They often don’t grow enough to supply all stores belonging to a chain for any length of time.  And supermarket buyers who can’t fill tomorrows order with one or two phone calls either have not got or do not want to make the time to deal with a niche grower who can supply part of of the stores for part of the season with high quality produce.  It is often more convenient for wholesalers and retailers to utilize large growers who can supply all of the stores for the entire season with a product that is of consistently acceptable quality and priced accordingly.

Fair enough – but where does this leave growers like Ivan?  The Ivans of this world – and there are many of them –  have indeed options.  Farmers markets and speciality fruiterer chains are immediate options, embarking on a sustained education campaign and trying to help wholesalers and supermarket buyers recgonise  an exceptional crop when they come across one is also a worthwhile consideration.  The alternatives are monocropping or becoming a cow cockie.  The world would be a poorer place if we were to allow diversity and niche production to fall victim to supply chain efficiency.

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