PASSIONATE about sustainability, Opotiki organic kiwifruit orchardists Mark and Catriona White say being part of the healthy farming movement makes them proud.
The couple have been named winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, which automatically makes them national sustainability ambassadors.
“We spent most of last week in Wellington,” Mr White said.
After judges had visited the Opotiki orchard three times in the lead-up to the awards night, final interviews were held in Wellington on Wednesday.
“On Thursday we were mixing with the other regional winners,” Mr White said.
“Learning about what they are up to makes me proud to be a New Zealand farmer.”
The awards night was held at Te Papa on Thursday evening.
Having earned the right to partake in the national competition by winning four awards at the Bay of Plenty regionals in February, the couple were up against dairy, sheep and beef farmers as well as beekeepers and orchardists who promote sustainable land practices.
Judging panel chairwoman Dianne Kidd said the Whites demonstrated an excellent understanding of all aspects of sustainable food production.
“They are outstanding strategic and agile thinkers on the key issues for New Zealand and have strong primary sector and community leadership qualities,” she said
“They are strong users of evidence-based science and technology in their business and orchard and demonstrate a broad global market understanding and a real energy to be agents of change.”
Zespri chief innovation and sustainability officer Carol Ward said the Whites were “real heroes of sustainability”.
“We’ve long known the Whites are exceptional people and this win on the national stage is thoroughly deserved,” she said.
The couple had showed a commitment to building sustainable growing across the kiwifruit industry.
“We often call on them to be organic kiwifruit ambassadors with our offshore customers,” Ms Ward said.
The judging panel had also singled out the Whites’ respect for Maori kaitiakitanga conservation values, their communication and teamwork and natural leadership.
New Zealand Farm Environment Trust chairwoman Joanne van Polanen said she was looking forward to helping the Whites fulfil their ambassadorial duties, which includes an overseas study tour.
“Catriona and Mark will do the country proud as food producers of the highest quality,” she said.
From city lifestyle to BioGro cert
ORGANIC kiwifruit growers Mark and Catriona White have been named national ambassadors for sustainable farming and growing as part of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Ten years ago, the Whites embarked on a quest to improve their family’s city lifestyle and landed on a bare block of land near Opotiki.
Their work and passion transformed the 7.5-hectare section of a former organic dairy farm into the Coastal Kiwis Orchard.
Mrs White’s family has been on the farm for four generations.
Mark also has a National Certificate in Horticulture.
Although they initially did not know much about kiwifruit, the couple did most of the physical development work themselves, keeping costs down and learning by their mistakes.
The orchard is BioGro certified.
It has 3.19 ha of Zespri Organic Green kiwifruit, producing in 2017 a total of 23,483 trays of kiwi-start fruit.
Zespri Organic SunGold (G3) is currently grown on 2.65 ha producing 38,362 trays.
This production was achieved in a “challenging growing year” which included various cyclones and a very wet and windy autumn.
Recently, developed blocks of SunGold have come into production.