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Brian Thompson: Pride in a Natural Product

The mighty Bay of Plenty is quickly rising as one of the horticulture centers of New Zealand. Home to the new All Black captain, the other gold to be produced in the region on large scale is kiwifruit. Based in Katikati on the Kauri Point, sticking out into the northern end of the Coromandel harbour, you'll find the home of Brian Thompson.

Much like many of the farmers in New Zealand, Brain has tried his hand in other areas of the agricultural industry before concentrating on the one he knew best, happily settled in horticulture with the iconic fruit as their preference. In 1970, Brian and his wife went to Vanuatu where they ran a beef and coconut farm. Brian said this is where he was initially introduced to horticulture and is an area he enjoyed.

On returning to New Zealand he got into trucking management before he moved to his current residence. They were driven to the Katikati region for the climate. Brian joked that he didn't like the cold and would have to move to a region where it wouldn't be an issue. It wasn't until they arrive that he and his wife decided to get into kiwifruit. The discussion was pretty simple and Brian said it went along the lines of, "everyone else is in kiwifruit, we'll have a crack".

The block is set on the Kauri Point, north of Tauranga, occupying approximately 40 hectares. As the orchard has grown, Brian said they have required more hands on deck to get the jobs completed day-to-day. With him and his wife handling the mowing and spraying, they've had to get others in to help out as there is too much to do on 40 hectares of intensive kiwifruit orchard. In recent years, they have also been boosted by the inclusion of Brian's youngest son, who is managing the development of the new blocks.

There was a real sense of pride in his product and Brian talked positively of the partnership he had developed with Zespri. First and foremost was the fact that he felt there was quite a close connection to the customer or the person eating the fruit. Zespri gave him the confidence to know that what was leaving his property, was the same product the consumer was buying. "It's exactly the same fruit that leaves my orchard. They don't cut it in half or put it in a tin. It's just put in a box." The connection of farm to table, rather than overly processed, is a growing trend in the world and Brian believes that Zespri has found the right way to get that to their customers.

It didn't stop there for Brain in regard to Zespri. Brian said the company not only provides him with the confidence to distribute his product but their marketing goes above and beyond expectations. Like all farmers in New Zealand, Brian takes great pride in his product, especially when it comes to the health benefits of kiwifruit and he said Zespri was doing an exceptional job of getting this message to the consumer. Especially at a time where health is on the forefront of minds around the world, Brian sees real value in his product.

While confident in his product, the operations saw the true effect. The recent chaos caused by the COVID-19 virus was felt across New Zealand and horticulture was no different. Despite some of the services being deemed essential, Brian said there were significant disruptions to their normal operations but said others were worse off. The property requires many hands to get the everyday jobs done and lockdown proved to be troublesome.

Brian is currently developing another block into kiwifruit and the lockdown forced a halt to the construction. With half of the structure in place, "it was only collecting dust" during level 4 which Brian found to be quite frustrating. As the country progressed down the national alert level system, Brian was able to get some of the contractors back on site and things progressed again.

Brian said that the enforced lockdown was quite frustrating for the orchard but said it was about getting up each morning with the mindset that it was business as usual. They had to keep things ticking away as usual, even if that meant it was the typical way they would operate. That's how primary industries have operated in the past and the resilience shone through as they continued to drive the economy every day. The persistence displayed throughout lockdown further displayed the resilience of the rural community in New Zealand and Brian believes that the tide is turning. He felt, "there has been a change in the attitude towards farmer now. Certainly a more positive view of them. "While that doesn't mean it will thrust the industry ahead, the positive look upon agriculture and horticulture in New Zealand is welcomed with open arms.

With his operation back to normal, Brian couldn't be happier as the development kicks back into gear. The larger structures are well underway and they still plan to be planting the new block in July. Good to hear and hopeful we see New Zealand produce take off over the coming months as the world demands good, healthy, natural products!