McIntosh Family Orchard

April 2015

The Otago region supreme award winner in the Ballance Farm Environmental Awards

McIntosh Orchard at Earnscleugh, near Alexandra, was the supreme award winner of the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards in Otago, plus four category awards: Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, Hill Laboratories Harvest Award, Massey University Innovation Award and Waterforce Integrated Management Award.  The 64ha (40ha planted) property was founded by the McIntosh family as a cropping farm in 1881 with the first fruit trees planted in 1910 and Wayne is the fourth generation manager for the family. The property was split off from Earnscleugh Station and also ran sheep until quite recently, but they have now gone. The history of development as a fruit-growing business follows more reliable water supply and the introduction of new technologies and varieties. The orchard now produces (in order of seasonal harvest) red and white cherries, apricots, yellow and white peaches, yellow and white nectarines, plums and apples.

Cherries begin in mid-December, stone fruit in mid-January and apples in March.  The motto of the business is to “capture sunlight in an edible form.”

McIntosh Orchards is a family operation that prides itself on consistently supplying a high quality product to consumers, underpinned by an emphasis on sustainable practices. Wayne McIntosh says the sustainability of the business was based on good staff members and other people who support them.

He has been managing the orchard for the last 10 years, after time spent teaching, travelling and playing rugby; while gaining a good knowledge of Asian countries and fruit markets.

Sustainability and a deep respect for the unique region are at the heart of everything they do. The fifth generation of the McIntosh family, already involved on the orchard despite their young years, will be well placed to follow on should they choose.

While keen to continue to develop the business Wayne is determined this will not be at the expense of family values and its commitment to environmental stewardship.

McIntosh Orchards is a 50:50 partnership between Wayne McIntosh and his parents Stuart and Sharon. It employs eight full-time staff and 40 to 50 seasonal staff for picking and packing, who are a mix of local and international workers. It has five orchard tractors, mulcher, mower and two Cropliner airblast sprayers. Three Hydraladders are used in picking and pruning.

Within the 40ha canopy area, 10ha of cherries provide 40% of the fruit income, followed by peaches and nectarines 20% each, apples 15% and apricots 5%. The orchard contains 34,000 trees, of which 30% are under seven years old.

The business strategy is to have 5% of production under “new market opportunities”, and new varieties are being trialled continuously to ensure that output matches market expectations. In that category at present are new apple varieties, feijoas and kiwiberries.

McIntosh Orchards supplies around 5% of all the peaches and nectarines grown for the domestic market each year. It also has exclusive relationships with exporters for different products in different markets that Wayne has built by trust, transparency, reliability, food safety and high quality. McIntosh has a registered export packhouse and the destinations include South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

It remains one of the smallest registered cherry packhouses in Central Otago, which retains hand sorting and sizing while keeping them in bunches.

Annual rainfall is a very low 300mm, one of the lowest in NZ. The property has five existing water storage dams that utilise a guaranteed allocation from the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme. The orchard has both under and over tree sprinklers for irrigation and frost-fighting. The older 30ha of the orchard have the overhead sprinklers for both irrigation and frost-protection. Frost alarms trigger the use of overhead sprinklers or the wind turbine, plus helicopter back-up is also used after rainfall on cherries to mitigate fruit splitting.

The first reliable water supply came from the Fraser Dam, built in 1923. Overhead sprinklers were added throughout the orchard in the 1980s, as prior to that all frost fighting was done with burning oil. As water turns to ice, it releases heat so helps raise freezing temperatures and also creates a protective shell over the buds and developing fruit. Growers had already begun to build dams and store water on their properties, utilising their allocations from the Fraser Dam, now they were better able to restrict the impact of damaging spring frosts, and had the confidence to expand their orchards. After the completion of the Clyde Dam and the filling of Lake Dunstan in 1993, the irrigation company was formed. It covers 1100ha and has about 120 users.

Five awards including the Otago Supreme Winner were a momentous result for McIntosh Orchards, with more than 100 years of family fruit growing on the one property.  The award judges said this was a business at the forefront of its industry. It has been a top performer and is well-placed for future growth. Wayne’s knowledge of Asia is now a big factor and is crucial for their innovative marketing strategy, achieving premium prices overseas on the basis of relationships and absolute commitment to high product quality. The orchard has a vision and strategy to promote the region and be known nationally and internationally. A feature of the business is effective risk management of climate, market, social, business and labour.