Rob and Debbie Wilson - Hawkes Bay

April 2008
Rob and Debbie Wilson have a diverse and sustainable farming business in Central Hawkes Bay: with 40% beef, 40% organic apples & pears, deer 15% and sheep 5%. I just love to see constructive development based around natural assets.

Debbie and Rob have three sons and a daughter: their eldest son, 22, is doing a BSC Honours in animal science, their 20 year old daughter is doing Physio, their 18 year old son is studying first year science at Massey, and their youngest son is still at school.

Debbie is the company secretary for the farming business, and very experienced in this, having worked in corporate agribusiness including Wrightsons head office.

The first harvest from the 60ha apple and pear orchard was in 1987, and for the first 11 years the fruit was all grown conventionally. Eleven years ago Rob changed to organic growing methods, firstly for the better profitability and secondly because he enjoys growing organically. Now his reasons are reversed.

Rob grows a full range of apples and pears: Cox, Gala, Royal Gala, Fiesta, Red Delicious, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Pacific Rose, Pacific Queen, Fuji, Beurre Bosc, Doyenne du Comice, Taylors Gold and Packhams Triumph pears.

All the fruit is exported, some through Freshco and some on their own account to an organic supermarket, Alberts, in Los Angeles. Rob is one of three orchardists working in a partnership, and last year Alberts took 20 containers of their fruit. He says it is an extremely successful arrangement.

- Since he began growing pipfruit, the orchard area has doubled. Hes enthusiastic about the future for organic pipfruit, and says there is 20% growth in the organic markets each year.

- Hes been all over the world looking at his fruit in markets. We had an exclusive from Marks and Spencer in 2000, and for three weeks every apple they sold was ours. Ive seen our apples in Times Square, in Texas and LA, in Rotterdam, Holland.

- He says they are having a problem at the moment with getting staff. For the past eight years they have been getting Czech and Brazilian staff, backpackers. But this year the Government changed the rules and only in the last fortnight have these been amended to allow people from these countries to work. But in the meantime hes lost a lot of staff. It is really serious.

- The staff first come at thinning in November, when about half are students and have backpackers from overseas. They come back for the harvest, but this year they havent because of the changed rules.

The block is 320ha, running 1350 bulls from 15 months to 30 months. Not a technosystem, but a 1ha system developed by two farmers from Patoka, Steve Horgan and Bruce McGregor.

There are both heavy and light soils on the block, which is good for management. The block is run in conjunction with the rest of the farm which is 20km away to the west. The home stock is brought down here for finishing.

- the Ruataniwha Plains act like a basin and the farm is full of springs bringing water up from aquifers before the water hits the limestone hills further east and flows out in the Tukituki and Waipawa Rivers.

- The Hawkes Bay Regional Council has helped with fencing off the creeks and wetlands on the beef block. Eight km of waterways have been double-fenced and retired and planted on the beef block.

- prospects for beef are all related to the dollar, but look good because world beef numbers have been decimated

I love birds, I never miss duckshooting but it is really for my family, says Rob.

The wetland area in the middle of the beef block is 4ha.

I love planting trees and watching things grow. I love water birds, and we had a natural site for a wetland, it was an unbelievably good opportunity.

It is a unique piece of land with five of the six springs feeding the Tukituki River coming up in the farm. Thats why the Regional council find it so interesting.

Five years ago we built the wetland, using all the toys, and with the help of a Regional Council grant. We put in $5000, and the Council put in $5000.

Its built in a little depression of what was a peat swamp. It doesnt leak, and the height is stable because its spring fed.

Now theres a plague of paradise ducks, which are not doing much for water quality which is an interesting point. And they are following harvesters around.

A wide variety of birds apart from the paradise ducks: lots of wading birds, because the wetland is not very deep. Truckloads of eels, even found a trout or two in there.

Planted a lot of plants around the edges, but had a couple of adverse seasons.

Still planting each year but I havent got through the programme as fast as I wanted.

I am just a compulsive planter.

The hill country farm Tuivale

Rob Wilson

I just love to see constructive development based around natural assets, and added to with plantings and water. I like things finished, I dont like things being untidy. My father bought this farm in 1953, It was all in totara stumps then. It had been for sale for 30 years, it was a derelict property. I have personally farmed it with Debbie since 1992.

The farm was originally a soldier settlement farm way back, and soldiers had walked off it.

Some of the bush on the farm is fenced and protected with the QEII National Trust. Because stock and bush are not compatible and we are fencing it off, because it will never exist within the farm.

On this 580ha farm we run 700 bulls, 1400 deer in a breeding and velvet operation and 1000 ewes.

There are about 15ha of woodlots, including 12ha of radiata pine, also Douglas fir, Thuja plicata, Eucalyptus obliqua, and redwoods. I love watching things grow, I love it. I have a pet spade that is going to be buried with me. I have planted about 20,000 trees. I just love planting.

Rob says This is a lovely place to live but you need a real job. Farming is a lifestyle.