Ashburton vege grower feeds the world

Daniel Lovett with potatoes grow ing at Lovett Family Farms' Garlefan Farm block which are being monitored by Potatoes New Zealand stations testing soil, leaf and nitrogen levels. It is one of around four sites the organisation monitors nationwide. Photo Toni Williams

It’s been a hive of activity at Lovett Family Farms with carrots, potatoes, beetroot and onions being harvested and sent to markets.

The company, owned by Daniel, Emily and his parents Joanne and Greg, has a full-time staff of 15 working in the field, the office and the packhouse, which is based at Wakanui, near Ashburton.

At peak season they can have up to 50 additional staff helping in the process to get products to varied markets.

Their diverse range of crops is spread around 1000 hectares of farmland paddocks throughout Mid Canterbury. They grow in coastal climatic soils to inland paddocks 300m above sea level.

Daniel, who with wife Emily has three young children, is the third generation of Lovetts who have farmed in Mid Canterbury.

His grandparents Stuart and Nola were sheep and crop farmers in the Newlands area, near Fairton.

Dad Greg bought the family farm at Wakanui, which is where the main Lovett Family Farms operation is based.

The Lovetts’ business plan is simple: produce high quality produce for their buyers with outstanding delivery. And it works. They have domestic and export markets for all of their products.

But stricter rules and regulations, mostly around non-science based environmental issues, were making it harder to farm, Daniel said. As well as the cost of compliance.

They, like many farmers, were environmentally conscious and acutely aware of nutrient loading, crop rotation and water use.

But future opportunities, such as a chance to lease a dryland farm, which could be watered for crop use, may remain unused, Daniel said.

The site in question had no cropping history and would be better planted to take up nutrients with controlled water input, but there were no provisions for that in nutrient loading rules, he said.

Lovetts already do annual nutrient budgets and Farm Environment Plans, which will become mandatory across the country soon, and are Global GAP (good agricultural practices) certified.

Their main crops are potatoes and onions, Daniel said, which are heading to McCains and to domestic and export markets, respectively.

The potatoes were planted at Wakanui, Pendarves and Lauriston and once harvested, if not used fresh, are stored in humidity controlled storage.

Of late the biggest issue had been tomato potato pysllid, an insect which infects potatoes causing them to turn black when cooked.

The insects, originally from Central and North America, were found in New Zealand in 2006 and now were widespread throughout the country.

The border control issue had now cost growers in preventative measures or face penalties from processors if potatoes were found infected by the pest.

Lovetts spend more than $2000 a hectare per potato growing season spraying specifically for tomato potato pysllid, Daniel said.

Onions, harvested from December through until April, were sorted at the packhouse and ranged in bulb size depending on customer need, from 35mm to over 90mm.

They were automatically bagged and packed in bags sized from 5kg through to 1.4 tonnes.

Other crops include peas, specialty seeds and wheat and barley. used for break crops.

They also have 100 hinds which eat waste product from their operations.

The carrots were destined for juice and puree processor Juice Products New Zealand in Timaru and then to Japanese markets.

Lovetts grow four different coloured carrots yellow, purple and white – which all have different properties.

In Japanese markets tropical fruit drinks are made up of 50 per cent carrot juice, unlike elsewhere in the world which has 50 per cent of apple juice, Daniel said.

Carrots fit in with the family operation, he said, with machinery, staff and facilities used throughout the season.

Daniel Lovett with carrots freshly harvested at Lovett Family Farms and destined for a New Zealand processor supplying juice and puree to markets in Japan. Photo Toni Williams

Land preparation started in drier conditions post-winter with the main planting in September.

Harvest ran from February and spanned throughout winter and into September.

They were dug fresh each day and washed in the plant capable of washing 40-tonne of carrots per hour to be delivered washed and forage material free.

They also grow six different varieties of blackcurrants, harvested in January and grown for the New Zealand Blackcurrant Co-operative and used for their health properties in a range of products, including powder form. It is the only fruit they grow.

Blackcurrant is popular with many athletes, including high profile sports teams, to help improve exercise performance and recovery.

Daniel uses it himself during his own sporting endeavours.

He recently completed the swim leg of the Wanaka Ironman team challenge for the second time.

Lovetts have grown the fruit for nearly two decades and originally grew fruit for market with Ribena.