Dyer's Gingko and Kiwifruit

August 2011

Graham and Mavis Dyer diversified from dairying to horticulture, adding value on the way

Graham and Mavis Dyer have won the major award for 2011 in the Bay of Plenty farm environment awards. They have been 50 years on the property at Lower Kaimai, which has 12.5ha of green and gold kiwifruit and 2.4ha of Gingko biloba for nut production, not for leaf production.

The Dyers moved to Bay Park in 1960 and developed the property as a dairy farm. When the Ruahihi Canal was constructed, kiwifruit development began, leading on to gold varieties and then to Gingko biloba. Graham and Mavis have three sons, and two of them and their families are living either side of Bay Park which is now 20ha. Both these families are also involved in kiwifruit, with one son, Gavin, growing Gingko biloba for leaves. This allows joint ownership and use of machinery, cooperation at harvest time and ability for Graham and Mavis to leave the property and go on holiday. They have also been long-term hosts for Zespri guests such as suppliers, importers and agents from many countries. They have many international connections, some of which were used in the decision to plant gingko.

The farm environment award assessors said the Dyers were pioneers in the successful production of green and gold kiwifruit cultivars in a higher altitude site with twice the rainfall and lower sunshine hours than Tauranga through careful management of the soil, including nutrients, fruit canopy and the capturing of water for frost control. They have 4.5ha of Hayward green, 3ha of Gold 16A and 0.5ha of Gold G9. The diversification into the gold varieties and ginkgo is to keep Bay Park out of the commodity price cycle. The Dyers arrange their own kiwifruit picking labour using overseas connections in the Czech Republic and Vanuatu. Bay Park has RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) accreditation and good accommodation is supplied on-site. Four Vanuatu staff members are in NZ for five months of every year along with backpackers who have come from the Czech Republic. Graham and Mavis never advertise for staff – all enquiries come from existing staff or word of mouth.

The Dyers planned the development of a whole new industry based on ginkgo nut production, by sourcing elite plant material from Japan, investing in research and development plus visiting the marketplace to develop supply chain relationships well ahead of production. They planted 2000 gingko trees, three metres apart in rows six metres wide, on 2.4 ha five years ago and expect to start producing nuts in two years.

They are the only commercial gingko nut growers in the Southern Hemisphere and have been given a TechNZ grant to discover the best way of storing them and maintaining the quality to fetch high prices in the ready-made Japanese market.

At full production, the Dyers are expecting to supply 25 tonnes of Gingko nuts – a kilogram can be worth as much as $25 – to Japan in its off season from June to September.

It will take 20 years of growing and grafting to get a nut producing orchard of female trees and pollinators which Graham Dyer expects to be thinned to 12 by 12m spacing.

The gingko nuts, sought after by top chefs, are used in soups, stews and desserts, particularly congee, and are served at special occasions such as weddings and other celebrations.

One of the drawbacks is that the ginkgo fruit (like an apricot or plum) has a strong smell of butyric acid (like vomit), and some westerners may object to an orchard near their house or in public access places. Hence in many public places, gingkos are grafted males. Harvesting the plum-like fruit may require the use of protective clothing. Not only is the flesh smelly, some people are also allergic to it. The fleshy fruit may be fermented before being washed off the nuts.

Gingko growing for leaf production employs a completely different crop regime and management, which is underway in several places in New Zealand, including by Gavin Dyer, Lower Kaimai.

According to the farm environment award assessors, Graham and Mavis have established an internationally significant collection of Agathis (kauri species) collected from Australasia and the Pacific, clearly demonstrating that a contribution to global biodiversity efforts can be incorporated into a profitable and sustainable orchard enterprise. There are 21 species of kauri, of which the NZ (Agathis Australis) is just one. Others are native to Australia, New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Malaysia, Philippines and Borneo. Graham and Mavis are donating Pacific Kauri and working on a voluntary basis at the Tauranga City Council’s Sydenham Gardens on Miller’s Road in Tauranga.

Graham says the kauri plantings at Bay Park started 30 years ago, but the bulk of the 14 species of non-NZ trees were planted 15 years ago. His reasons for planting them are partly for preservation and partly scientific.

A large pond has been created, maintained and planted to protectively encourage bird life and is surrounded by native bush. Because of the proximity to the Ruahihi Canal, Bay Park is used by walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists.

The Dyers won the 2011 supreme award in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards for Bay of Plenty, under a committee of organisers and assessors chaired by kiwifruit orchardist John Bourke, Katikati. The Dyers also won the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award, the Zespri Kiwifruit Orchard Award and the Massey University Discovery Award.

The Dyer’s strong focus on financial sustainability was the key to getting a return on their investment in the property. “This allows them to dedicate their time, energy and resources to best-practice environmental protection and development,” said the assessors.