The annual pilgrimage to Nelson/Tasman included some familiar and some new sights this year, yet produced the same outstanding results in terms of learning and resource gathering for internal and external assessments.
No Tasman trip is complete without a visit to Appleby's Ice Cream (farm and factory), and we got that out of the way the very first morning of our trip! Joint owners, Murray and Julian, were extremely kind to give up a half-day of their time to show us around both the farm and the factory, and later the company's new CEO, Peter Findley, provided very helpful business information that will make for a useful resource for Brent Wolf's business aspects of the Agribusiness course. Of particular interest was a discussion about the time and expense involved in branding a product (6-12 months and millions of dollars!), and how it was an indispensable part of establishing a successful future for a business. Appleby's first-class logo, 'Cow to Cone' was an excellent example how a catchy phrase also completely encapsulated the gist of the business that breeds its own A2 cow herd and then uses that milk to make their unique A2 ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, the owner very kindly allowed the students to eat as much of their many varieties as they liked!
Seifrieds Family Estate was established in 1973 by a keen Hermann and Agnes Seifried, despite no one being willing to grant them a loan. 50 years later, Seifrieds is one of the regions top vineyards, producing well-known vintages that include Seifried's Pinot Noir, Aotea and Old Coach Road. All the grown children are now involved in the business in various capacities and the future looks secure. The owners shared a lot of future-proofing strategies they used over the years like building a vat room double the size they needed to be ready for growth, and how they set up a restaurant and function centre to earn diversified income and showcase their wines.
Next stop, Pic's Peanut Butter Factory and a FREE guided tour (just one of their add-value initiatives). As a result many of us bought product from the shop anyhow. We were all surprised when we saw the bottle lids still being put on manually, but apparently there are some parts of a process that are not worth compromising, and lids is one of those. One could eat off the factory floor and the staff were immaculate in their food safety gear, as they packaged together what is arguably New Zealand's premier peanut butter. The passion of the staff was palpable and contributed to an energetic and fun-filled tour and a renewed love for peanut butter (of course, we had a tasting as well!).
Pitt and Moore is Nelson's oldest law firm, and we were privileged to be hosted by one of the partner, Annisa Bain, who has Agribusiness Law as one of the areas under her purview. It was fascinating to 'see the lights go on' as the students realized that Agribusiness can take you in many unexpected directions. Part of Annisa's job is to sort our migrant workers' contracts each year, help farmers to define and re-define land boundaries and sort out land disputes when they arise. After an interesting hour at the law firm, we left to visit one of Annisa's clients, Simon Easton, producers of the famous Koru apple at Wairepo.
Wairepo, the complex, was a showcase of innovative technologies, from drones in the orchard to genius carton-packaging machines in the pack-house. However, their progress has not been without challenges - COVID and recent weather events in the Tasman has set the company back on more than one occasion, but sheer tenacity has kept them afloat.
Our final day had stored up the best until last! We set out on Jono Large's vessel, an adapted fishing boat now purpose fitted for mussel farming. We spent the day on the water gaining fascinating insights into both mussel and oyster farming in the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealanders have again taken the lead by conceiving of, and designing highly innovative equipment for these types of farming. The oyster 'flip-farm' was recently designed by local oyster farmers for easily flipping over the oyster baskets which, if left one-side up for the entire life cycle of the oyster growing, will result in unwanted growth of bacteria and other organisms on the in-water side. As the baskets are now flipped, this allows the sun to dry out each side regularly and avoid this toxic growth. The challenge was to design a system that could flip 250-500m of connected baskets quickly and efficiently.
The flip-farm kit was developed and is now supplied worldwide from the Marlborough Sounds, and is generating 5x the income of the oyster farm itself!
Another highlight of the day was diving in amongst the mussel farms to see the hanging delicacies under the water. It turned out that there was far more than simply mussels as Nic Hinton and Max Simpson joyfully discovered!
Tasting oysters and mussels straight from the sea to the mouth takes some getting used to, as the salt content has not yet had a chance to dissipate, drawing a few interesting responses and facials from brave testers.
A fascinating industry overall, with many challenges as the sea is your 'soil', but one that reaps New Zealand significant export rewards when things go well.
The students have returned armed with extensive resources writing up their Future-proofing, Marketing and Business Reports over the next few months. Many thanks to all those who helped to make the trip such a success and to all the businesses who kindly gave up entire days to host and teach us. Mr Wolf and Mrs Piebenga made my job as team leader a breeze, as usual. And to the students; you guys and girls are amazing, and the reason we get up every morning - thanks for a fabulous week with you all!