We recently talked to Matthew Hareb about the process of establishing his avocado orchard in Brixton, North Taranaki, the steps he has taken and his plans for the future.
Tell us about yourself and your background?
My name is Matthew Hareb, I’m Taranaki born and bred, for the last 15 years I’ve run an earth-moving contracting business in the oil and gas industry. I am now looking to diversify and see avocadoes as the next chapter in the book.
Why did you choose avocadoes?
Avocadoes felt like the right choice and move as my family has experience and knowledge from owning two orchards in the Bay of Plenty. I would have liked to have gone into kiwifruit, but I don’t think there is enough in Taranaki to make it viable right now. Avocadoes are the next best thing.
My Mother is available and going to come down and oversee the planting and run the show until I have the time too.
What varieties have you considered?
The varieties I’m going with are Hass (rootstock: Bounty, Zutano, SR1) and the Green Skin Eclipse, application for this is currently under approval.
Do you think the future is beyond Hass?
It’s a hard one to say because the Green Skin Eclipse are big fruit but they take 19 months to two years to grow their fruit, so that’s a long time to wait. You need to have something else growing in-between times to bring in the income.
Did you consider organic production?
No, the farm is too large of a scale to consider organic right now.
What resources did you access before making the decision to grow avocadoes?
I didn’t look at any resources, I just went straight in off the bat. I am using my previous knowledge and experience from the family orchards in the Bay of Plenty. Mum and Dad bought an established orchard 5-7 years ago, they did some further earth works and more planting. They then diversified another bit of land where they live and planted around another 300 trees. They did it all themselves with our help, it was what we did over Christmas last year - a whole lot of planting and building shelters!
My parents work closely with Trevelyan (a packhouse and coolstore operation) and I made connections with Riversun (avocado wholesale nursery). I had already ordered my plants when I saw Venture Taranaki was running the Branching Out Avocado event (which explored the avocado opportunity for Taranaki and its potential). A rep from Riversun flew over and came to the event too. Riversun is one of the big players and you have to go through them to order the Green Skin Eclipse type.
Did you do an assessment of your climate and soil?
No, I know this land and area and know what grows well.
The most important factor is really good soil and climate. You need to know what you’re working with; what’s under the soil, and what’s under the ground because avocadoes don’t like wet feet. The soil needs to be free draining, knowing where the water table is a big one, you need to be looking for your water table and you need to be able to break the soil up. I own a bulldozer, it’s a D8L same size as D9 and it’s a big bit of kit, it will break up the whole paddock where we are going to plant.
How did you find the process of getting the orchard established? Will you do it yourself?
Yes, I will be doing it myself with Mother and some extra help. I will hire in some locals, I’ve got 15,000 shelter trees, 20,000 shelter stakes and 4,500 avocado trees this year alone. The locals I hire don’t have experience yet but that is where Mum will come in and manage and oversee the process and make sure it’s done right.
How long did it take for you to decide this piece of land was right and how long before giving the go-ahead to proceed with development?
I had been looking for land for the last two years. I deal with a lot of land agents so as soon as this land came up, they got in touch.
I bought the land nearly a year ago and took it over in June 2021. The land was a dairy farm, but the previous owner cut it up so it’s too small for dairy now. It’s 30 hectares of plantable land and I’ll planting all 30 hectares in avocado trees.
What are your plans for wind shelter as the avocado trees grow and the costs?
Artificial shelters around the trees and use natural boundaries. The artificial shelters need five pegs per tree and netting. It works out to be about $60 per tree not including labour.
Do you have irrigation?
No, but I have been on the fence. It’s a big investment and a big-ticket item, and I think that’s what some people don’t understand, all the costs that come into it.
The benefit of the Taranaki climate is that it rarely goes very long without a bit of rain. Whereas in the Bay of Plenty they can go 8-10 weeks without rain, so you’d need irrigation up there. If we have a dry summer, I will get water and use slurry tankers and my tractor. If the plants need water that might tip me over the fence, to get an irrigation system.
No water means no growing and no fruit, so it’s a gamble.
What yield are you budgeting on?
10 – 14 % return is what I am hoping for. However, I am doing it all myself, hiring my own workers, my own time and my own equipment and machinery.
Down the track, I am planning on setting up a contracting business for orchards development, so I can go around and build an orchard for somebody whether it’s kiwifruit or avocadoes.
I’ve got all the equipment now and had to buy a lot that isn’t local. It makes sense.
What are your plans for labour to pick fruit? What are your plans for labour for the other key times of the year e.g. pruning, thinning?
We are creating a whole strategy around using locals, hopefully from Waitara, and hope to work closely with the local iwi on this. I’m hoping to bring in youth and get them out working.
The timeline plan is to plant this year, flower next year (2022) and fruit the following year in 2023.
The first fruit in 2023 won’t be viable to pick to send to the packhouse though as there won’t be enough of it. The fruit will double every year after that, so you don’t start making a profit and a return until the fourth and fifth year.
How many people is your operation likely to employ when fully up and running?
One to two full-timers and during the picking and pruning season I’ll employ around 10 -15 workers.
Which packhouse are you intending to use?
Trevelyans pack house. I am also looking to build my own packhouse and get other orchard’s fruit. I would look at taking kiwifruit too long term. Having a packhouse and doing our own initial processing in region saves on transportation costs because you can waste a lot of money transporting fruit that might not be worth anything.
What is the biggest challenge when setting up the orchard?
The time required.
Do you think there is opportunity for more avocado orchards in Taranaki? Do you have a vision for the industry over the next 5 – 10 year?
Yes for sure. I want to see it succeed; it needs to after all I’ve put into it so far. We could get up to 1000 hectares but there’s only certain areas that are viable to grow and there’s places where it won’t. There is a lot of land in Taranaki but only some is suitable for horticulture.
What is your biggest concern in setting up and running an avocado orchard?
Wind is my main concern.
Have you considered any other markets for fruit – e.g. processed products?
Definitely. Additional products such as avocado oil will be a main avenue going forward and setting up café and brewery. The Hawkes Bay and other places do it really well, having cool extra setups at their orchards for visitors. In the next 2 years I will be working towards getting the café and brewery up and running – that’s the plan! First thing first though is to get the trees in the ground.