Concentrating on blackcurrants

Afsaneh and Tony Howey inspect fruit at their certified organic blackcurrant orchard. Photo: Central Rural Life Files
Afsaneh and Tony Howey inspect fruit at their certified organic blackcurrant orchard. Photo: Central Rural Life Files
Pleasant Point vegetable and berryfruit grower Tony Howey is scaling back.

He and his wife Afsaneh Howey have sold and given up leases on 600ha of land on which they grew onions, carrots, potatoes, grain and seed, in order to concentrate on their blackcurrant business.

Mr Howey said he had hoped to find a young keen grower who might take over the operation but this did not happen.

''It was quite difficult; it's hard to entice young ones now. There's no-one around.''

The Howeys have three sons. Two are doctors, another is an academic and none was interested in going on the land.

For 20 or so years, too few younger people had seen horticulture/agriculture as having strong career possibilities, he said.

''We need young people who must see it as important. The industry is less labour-intensive.''

Southern Packers at Washdyke, of which he is a director, had put a lot more money into automation and it was no longer a mundane, labour-intensive job, Mt Howey said.

While kiwifruit, apples and avocadoes had gone well, the vegetable sector had not.

''It hasn't progressed as well as it could have done.''

The Howeys went farming in a family partnership in 1986 on a small arable block and expanded over the years.

They moved into growing blackcurrants organically, marketing them under their ViBeri brand, which was launched in 2011. Their blackcurrants are sold around New Zealand and exported to the United States, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia and Germany.

''We sell to 25 different companies, big and small.''

Recently, Mr Howey promoted the product and brand in Sydney, Melbourne, Tauranga and Wellington.

A recent publication by scientists at Plant & Food Research has reported that an extract from New Zealand blackcurrants may offer benefits for exercise recovery.

Mr Howey is a director of Horticultural NZ and chairman of the New Zealand Good Agricultural Practice (NZGAP) committee, which advocates for safe and sustainable production of fruit and vegetables in New Zealand.

He will be stepping down from the Ravensdown board this year when his term ends.

''I'll be exiting Southern Packers, as well, but will stay on Farmers Mill and Seedlands NZ and I'm involved with the Aoraki Multicultural Council.''

-By Chris Tobin

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