Immigration New Zealand (INZ) general manager border and visa operations Nicola Hogg. Photo: Supplied.

Crisis looms for $2b wine industry

A horticultural disaster is looming as a lack of vital workers threatens the region’s $2billion wine industry.

Imported workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme are in short supply, with less than half of the potential 14,400 workers currently in the country.

And one employer is warning the situation will only get worse.

Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby says the ideal solution would be a travel bubble with Vanuatu.

“There’s been a shortage of labour and there’s going to be a shortage of labour.

“A lot of places where RSE staff come from are Covid free,” Helen says.

RSE workers who are currently outside of New Zealand are not allowed in until Covid border restrictions are lifted.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) general manager border and visa operations Nicola Hogg says there are about 1700 RSE workers in Marlborough, with the number is likely to change as workers move around the country.

But Helen says that number will drop.

“For our RSE staff we made the decision to charter an aircraft two weeks ago – that took 340-odd home.

“Not because we don’t need them for work – but we feared for their mental health.

“They’ve been stranded here.”

About 3000 workers are needed to complete the harvest and pruning – and there are not enough Kiwis to fill the shortfall.

“One RSE worker is worth one and a half other workers, at least,” Helen says.

“Some of them have eight or nine years experience.

“They think it’s going to be a little easier to recruit Kiwis, but there won’t be enough.”

In August, the government extended RSE visas by six months for those still in New Zealand and unable to return home.

“This allows RSE workers with visa expiry dates between 18 August and 31 December 2020 to stay and work in New Zealand,” Nicola says.

“This visa extension gives approximately 6,700 RSE workers still in New Zealand, and their employers, more certainty about worker availability for the coming season.”

She says the RSE worker cap of 14,400 will not be increased this year as planned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month the government also announced that around 11,000 Working Holiday Scheme visa holders who are in New Zealand, with visas expiring between November 2020 and March 2021, will be automatically granted Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) visas.

“This allows them to work until 30 June 2021 in horticulture and viticulture seasonal roles where there are not enough New Zealanders available to do the work,” Nicola says.

“Immigration New Zealand (INZ) recognises the impact that COVID-19 continues to have on businesses and migrants and their loved ones.”

Helen says the critical issue will come next winter.

“This is when staff demand is at its height.

“It will become a critical issue.”

She says the industry won’t have the luxury to utilise staff stuck in New Zealand come next pruning season.

“Next year’s pruning will come up us much sooner than we expect.”

Helen says in a perfect world, the government would recognise Covid-free countries.

“These guys [RSE workers] are very experienced in Covid-19 because they have lived and worked through a level 4 lockdown,” she says.

“They’ve travelled between regions with all the special permissions.

“On returning home, they’ve done a 14-day quarantine.

“They have a lot of experience looking after themselves and remaining Covid-free.

“A bubble with Vanuatu would be the ideal situation.”

Rhys Hall from Indevin. Photo: Supplied.

Grape expectations

Rhys Hall from Indevin will be pitting his wits against five other finalists next month competing for the coveted NZ Young Viticulturist of the Year title.

The talented finalist I hoping to take out the top spot at the milestone event, which will also mark the competition’s 15th anniversary.

Since 2006 the initiative has helped support passionate, young viticulturists grow, reach their goals and move into leadership roles within the wine industry.

Leadership & Communities Manager at NZ Winegrowers Nicky Grandorge is welcoming a chance for the industry to celebrate after a tumultuous few months.

This year’s National Final is being held in conjunction with the celebration so the fifteenth winner -The Corteva NZ Young Viticulturist of the Year 2020 – will be announced at the dinner.

“In this challenging year, it is fantastic that we have made it through our six regional finals and are able to hold the National Final.

“This, along with reaching the fifteen-year milestone, is certainly something to celebrate and a wonderful opportunity to bring our passionate, big thinking winners together, many of whom are now senior leaders in our industry.” Nicky says.

The celebrations take place on 8 October in Martinborough.

File photo.

Warming region brings bud burst early

Record-breaking winter temperatures have triggered early budburst for some grape growers.

Plant and Food Research scientist Rob Agnew says last month was the fifth warmest August since records began.

And some early variety grapes are already starting to burst ahead of schedule.

Data shows Blenheim’s winter temperatures have markedly warmed over the past few decades.

But grape growers aren’t too worried, with one hoping the early start will translate to an early harvest.

Grower Ben McLauchlan says the “real, real early” bud burst is just “nature taking its course”.

“It’s one of those things,” he says. “We’ve got frost machines.”

“Investment in frost protection is critical.”

Rob says the three winter months in 2020, June, July and August, recorded well above average mean temperatures.

“The mean winter air temperature of 9.5 degrees Celsius was 0.9 degrees Celsius warmer than the LTA [long term average].

“The winter of 2020 is now the second warmest winter on record for Blenheim.”

Grower Dave Trolove has chardonnay grapes starting to show some bud movement at his vineyard at the bottom of Waihopai Rd.

“It’s been pretty dry and warm the last couple of months, which could bring it [bud burst] forward.

“But it only takes a couple cold spells to slow things down again,” Dave says.

He says bud burst is probably a bit earlier, but in the southern valleys the season usually starts a bit later.

“Growers can’t afford to worry too much,” he says.

Rob says Blenheim’s winters are now far warmer than they were in the mid-20th century.

“23 ground frosts were recorded over winter, compared to the LTA of 37.3.

“This is the lowest total number of winter ground frosts recorded in Blenheim over the 89 years 1932 to 2020.”

The record low number of frosts doesn’t mean mother nature doesn’t have another in store.

“Those early varieties, the chardonnay and pinot, you’re never out of frosts when they come through,” Ben says.

Rainfall is also lacking in the region, with hoped for heavy winter falls not materialising.

“Total rainfall for the 8-months January to August 2020 is 269.8 mm,” Rob says.

“This is the fourth lowest January to August rainfall total on record for Blenheim for the 91 years 1930 to 2020.

“As signalled in the last couple of months, Blenheim needed well above average rainfall over winter in order to make up for the lack of rainfall earlier in 2020.

“This hasn’t happened, and many soil types will still be below field capacity going into the spring.”

Marlborough is one of the driest places in New Zealand. Photo: File.

Water shortages loom as rainfall levels disappoint

Water shortages are looming as latest rainfall totals are revealed with not much respite in sight.

August will fall short of normal rainfall totals it was revealed today, making Marlborough one of the driest regions in the country

Speaking to Marlborough District Council’s Environment Committee on Thursday, environmental scientist – Hydrology Val Wadsworth says soil moisture levels are suffering.

“Marlborough is one of the driest regions in New Zealand – we are only ever six to eight dry weeks away from water shortage issues.”

It’s a big difference from just two months ago, she says.

“Only two months in 2020 – May and June – recorded above average rainfall across the district.

“Annual totals for the year to date are generally about 60 percent to 75 per cent for most of Marlborough.

“A few sites in the Sounds and Te Hoiere/Pelorus areas are up to 90 per cent of the year-to-date (YTD) total.”

Val says in some areas the July and August totals are less than half of the normal rate.

Eastern and Southern Marlborough are sitting at between 45 per cent and 65 percent with Northern and Western Marlborough coming in at between 65 per cent to 75 per cent.

“NIWA is predicting the next two months rainfall to be about normal. There is still time for some good spring rainfall and nature does sometimes tend to balance itself out, but it is not a given.”

“The rainfall over the last few days will be very beneficial for early spring pasture growth,” says Val.

“Despite this, more rainfall is needed in spring to further replenish soil moisture and river base flows for the coming summer.”

The steadily declining Wairau Aquifer will get a much needed boost from the snowfall earlier in the week.

Snow cover in the Marlborough high country is a significant contributor to summer flows, Val says.

“Good Wairau River flows are a key part of the recharge mechanism for the steadily declining Wairau aquifer.

“Pastoral farmers will be the first to feel the pinch if moisture levels don’t produce sufficient spring growth to carry into summer. Irrigators will also be affected if river flows fall to below cut-off levels early or for prolonged periods,” she says.

The Wairau River is flowing below average for this time of year, with flows at between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of normal and the Awatere is at 75 per cent.

Mussels are extensively farmed in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Supplied.

Scientists’ mussel seabed solution

Hopes to bring wild mussels back to the Sounds and boost marine diversity have moved a step closer.

An international team of experts are calling for Marlborough District Council to approve plans to create two new mussel beds in the Pelorus Sound.

And marine scientists hope the Marlborough project could spark mussel bed restoration initiatives in other parts of New Zealand.

The move comes after three years of investigation into the best way to create new seabed habitats.

Large areas of mussel beds were destroyed last century as land clearance and ongoing run off from farmland altered the nature of the seabed.

A report prepared for council by marine scientist Dr Andrew Jeffs says dropping clean shells to create a habitat for two new mussel beds in

the Pelorus Sound could stop further deterioration.

“For a number of years there has been concern, including from MDC, about the decline of wild shellfish beds in areas of the Marlborough Sounds.

“Studies in other areas have shown that mussel beds are extremely productive, support high biodiversity, act as nurseries for fin-fish species, and help to remove suspended sediment from the water column and stabilise the seabed,” the report says.

Scientists plan to drop clean shells to act as anchors for live mussels in a bid to test whether coarser seabed substrate will prove a better habitat than silt.

The multi-million-dollar project has attracted significant co-funding and specialist technical support from an overseas environmental NGO, The Nature Conservancy.

“One possibility for the lack of natural recovery of wild mussel populations in the Marlborough Sounds is the inability of mussels to re-establish naturally on this changed seabed substrate,” Andrew says.

“Mussels require sediment particles of at least 2 mm in diameter in order to attach their anchoring threads which hold them upright on the seafloor so they can feed,” he says.

The shell material and live mussels will be actively monitored by researchers.

The Marine Farming Association worked with other community groups, the University of Auckland and NIWA to develop the research plan.

Puro managing director Tim Aldridge. Photo: Supplied.

Medical cannabis company to grow job market

Marlborough’s fledgling marijuana industry could inject millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs into the region in its first year.

Bosses at Medical cannabis firm Puro have revealed growing the crop could bring in about $60 million dollars in the next two years.

It could also create more than 300 jobs once established, with the first intake set to start in October.

Puro managing director Tim Aldridge says the business will also create other jobs as it gets underway.

“Puro has the capacity to create in excess of 300 jobs once our long-term facilities are up and running, most of these will be at Kaikoura site.

“On top of this are the indirect jobs and construction employment that our infrastructure and development project will create,” he says.

Puro ran a successful crowd-funding campaign last year, raising $4million to establish the medicinal cannabis operation.

The company intends to grow medicinal cannabis in greenhouses in the Waihopai Valley and high-CBD (cannabidiol) hemp in Kekerengu, on the coast between Blenheim and Kaikōura.

“We estimate that over 95 per cent of our total product will contain no THC, 0.3 per cent or lower,” Tim says.

THC is the psychoactive compound of cannabis that is used to create a high.

“Our focus is towards CDB and other medically beneficial cannabinoids.”

The large, outdoor facility in Kaikoura is where most of our new jobs will be created, Tim says.

“Here we will have cultivation technicians that will work under supervision in roles based around plant sowing, harvesting, pruning and pest management.

“There will be supervisors overseeing these roles and specialists to work alongside them – plant pathologists, compost experts etc.

“These roles will be most suited for horticultural trained postgraduate students, or others with similar qualification and commercial experience,” he says.

The Kaikoura processing area will also have technicians for bucking, trimming, milling, and drying of the hemp flower.

“Following the processing, we will have roles for packaging and distribution to third party manufacturers.

“Our outdoor cultivation will come online in September with some workforce required prior to planting.

There will be multiple roles in the laboratory, research and cultivation divisions including cannabis horticulture, process management, compliance and packaging created at the indoor Waihopai glasshouses.

“We are ready to start planning as soon as our commercial cultivation license is received from the Ministry of Health, which is currently pending.”

“This is a multi-million-dollar economic boost for Marlborough and Kaikoura and our success will encourage other local businesses to entire this exciting and profitable market.”

Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith is backing the business, saying it brings with it the chance for Marlborough to make its mark on the world stage as a cannabis producer.

“I understand the value in utilising our precious farmland for economic purposes, with the goal to better both the local and national community,” he says.

“…there is now an opportunity to bring a new land-based industry to Marlborough with the potential to cement Marlborough’s place on the world stage as a premium producer of medical cannabis products.”

Shearer Angus Moore checks out his new lease Hyundai as part of his prize. Photo: Supplied.

Shearer’s tribute to community who helped him take top title

A shearer who became hooked on the craft after showing up late for his first competition has taken out one of New Zealand’s top shearing titles.

Angus Moore from Seddon won the PGG Wrightson Wool National Shearing Circuit Championship earlier this month, just before lockdown.

The father of five says it’s the people he’s met along the way who helped him on the path to success.

Angus has come out on top of the National Shearing Circuit, a series of regional shearing competitions that culminated at the Golden Shears Championships.

There are many people he wants to thank for helping him take out the top spot, he says.

“Big thanks to all who have helped me along the way and who work hard to make our industry possible.

“The experience of travel is a draw card, so I have met and worked with farm owners, shepherds, presses, wool handlers, shearers, cooks and runabouts from all over NZ.

“At The Paki station in the far north and Invercargill, and around the Catlins in the south, I have learned a little from you even if you never meant to teach.

“You are fantastic and there always seems to be fun, laughter and keenness to learn.”

Angus and wife Ratapu are expecting their sixth child in May. Together, the pair who met on the circuit, run Moore Sheep Shearing Ltd.

Brought up on a family farm in Kekerengu then Ward. Angus was Head Boy at Marlborough Boys’ College in 2002 and spent his teenage years wool handling in the holidays.

He went on to complete a shearing course run by Meat and Wool New Zealand under the tuition of instructor and later MP Colin King.

But it wasn’t until he took part in his first shearing competition that he really caught the bug, he says.

“My first show was November 2003 in Blenheim. I hadn’t done a full day’s work and arrived late due to playing in the pipe band. I made the final, came 3rd and I was hooked.

“My first experience of the Golden shears was with Nathan Stratford in 2005 where I managed to make intermediate final and came 3rd.

“It was a week that I won’t forget. I had heard about the Golden Shears but the experience was much more than I could have imagined.

“Everyone loved and breathed the wool Industry and we’re so amazingly passionate about it,” Angus says.

But without the support of his sponsors, none of his achievements would be possible, he says.

“Big thanks to PGG Wrightson and Hyundai for their massive sponsorship and recognition of the commitment we all make to compete.

“It will be an honour to compete for my country and I look forward to all the opportunity this prize offers.”

Mitch Croudis with his game bantam Lara who he hopes will take the top spot at the upcoming Marlborough Poultry, Pigeon and Cage Bird Association's 132nd annual show. Photo: Matt Brown.

Poultry stars as show beckons

On a family farm, the hemming and clucking from 65 small game bantam chickens fill the air.

The tiny chooks aren’t bred for their eggs, they’re just a bonus, these are competition chickens.

Close to 150 game bantams from Marlborough and further afield will be judged on their type and condition at the upcoming Marlborough Poultry, Pigeon and Cage Bird Association’s 132nd annual show.

And poultry enthusiast Mitch Croudis from Rapaura reckons his premier pullet will be the pick of the brood.

Named Lara, the ten-month-old black’s fanning tail and even comb put her in good stead for taking out the top spot.

“She’s got a couple of firsts at the other shows, so I hope to do quite well with her again,” Mitch says.

“She got first up north, in New Plymouth, first in her class.

“She missed out on best black of the show, but it was close.”

Mitch Croudis with his show-stopping game bantam Lara. Photo: Matt Brown.
Mitch Croudis with his show-stopping game bantam Lara. Photo: Matt Brown.

The cut-throat competition examines every facet of the small chooks’ breeding and looks.

Their eye colour, the evenness of their combs, how they act in their cage and how their tail fans out are all checkboxes on the scoring card.

Marlborough Poultry, Pigeon and Cage Bird Association member Helen Croudis says type and condition is the top thing with game bantams.

“We’ve got just under 400 birds all up entered,” she says.

Numbers are down slightly from last year due to a pigeon rotavirus disease excluding the racing birds from the show.

Helen says it’s been a busy month for poultry and bird enthusiasts who take part in the show.

Showing birds is a winter hobby, with the competitions taking place from May to July every year.

“There’s been a show every week since the start of June in the South Island,” Helen says.

Mitch has been competing for thirteen years, and the Marlborough show is his third this season.

“Dad took me to a poultry show when I was younger and I was hooked,” he says.

“It’s my hobby, it’s something to do during the winter.”

Don’t miss the Marlborough Poultry, Pigeon and Cage Bird Association’s 132nd annual show.

Friday 12 July, from 1.30 – 5.30 pm and Saturday 13 July, from 9 am – 2.30 pm.

$5 entry for families, or $2 per adult.

This two-year old Taimate Angus bull sold to Turihaua Angus Stud in Gisborne for an eye-watering price. Photo: Supplied.

Record-breaking bull sale nets Ward farmer massive payday

A Marlborough farmer has smashed records selling a bull for a jaw-dropping $85,000.

Taimate Angus stud farmer Paul Hickman sold a two-year-old bull to Turihaua Angus Stud, in Gisborne, for the sum, eclipsing his previous record of $20,000.

It is believed to be the highest for a bull in the South Island.

“It is an extraordinary price,” Paul says.

Previously, the top price Paul had received for one of his Angus bulls was $20,000.

The Aberdeen Angus, simply known as Angus, is a Scottish breed of small beef cattle.

The name comes from cattle native to Aberdeenshire and Angus in north-eastern Scotland.

The Ward farmer has been breeding bulls on the family farm his whole life.

Sired by Taimate Lazarus, a bull kept as a breeding stud, the as yet unnamed bull will be shipped to its new owner in Gisborne.

“He is just an all-round exceptionally good bull,” Paul says.

“To look at, his performance, the way he walks, the way he moves. Everything.”

Paul says he sold another bull, by Lazarus, for $40,000 and another for $23,000.

Paul says the highest amount paid for a New Zealand Angus bull was around $150,000 in the mid-90’s.

Breaking another South Island record, Taimate Angus received an average price of $14,000 for their 65 livestock up for sale, selling 65 out of 65 bulls.

“She’s a good day and a rather long night celebrating,” Paul says.

He says next year, there will be more sons of Taimate Lazarus for sale, but he wasn’t expecting to surpass this year’s prices.

“That would be a hell of a long shot,” he says. “But never say never.

“I’m very, very pleased.”