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Wendy Dowling - Bayleaf Organics

“The sunny, warm days and occasional rain have been a welcome relief after two years of wet weather"

The apple harvest has started for organic grower Bayleaf Organics. Timing is around a week later than normal, with the Royal Gala harvest starting in the 3rd week of February.

"We had a worrying start to the season with a fair amount of rain over early blossom, which affected pollination, then the rest of the season has been beautiful," said Wendy Dowling, from Bayleaf Organics. "The sunny, warm days and occasional rain have been a welcome relief after two years of wet weather culminating in the devastating Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023. We lost about 30% of our crop in the cyclone, but were fortunate enough not to lose any trees."

The company has consolidated over the last few years as they evolve from running older leasehold orchards, to now mainly managing their own orchards. "We have 40Ha, the majority of which are young plantings, with more intensive spacing, and varieties that perform well under an organic management system. We also have small areas under redevelopment."

Bayleaf Organics has two orchard sites in Hawkes Bay, in the North Island of New Zealand. 12 Ha in Haumoana and 28 Ha in Meeanee.

"We will pack around 70,000 tce this year. Some of our younger trees are coming into production in the next couple of years and we will eventually pack around 100,000 tce per year. We also have established juice customers, providing organic juice apples to Coral Tree Organics for amazing organic Apple Cider Vinegar and other clients."

Beyleaf Organics grow a range of varieties: high coloured strains of Royal Gala (Galaxy), Fuji (Aztec), Cripps Pink (Lady in Red) and Granny Smith and are excited to be the first growers in New Zealand to trial growing Rockit apples under an organic management program.

Two very tough years
Wendy said that the last two years have been some of the toughest they've had to endure as far as weather is concerned.

The average rainfall in Napier is 823mm/year. In 2022 1313mm was recorded and in 2023 a staggering 1363mm - with approximately 200mm of it falling during Cyclone Gabrielle.

"It felt like it rained for two years non-stop. The ground almost never dried up for 2 years, and our staff had to work and spray in muddy conditions. It was depressing to say the least! We have been proud of how well our staff performed and the beautiful crop that we still managed to harvest. In organics, everything we spray is preventative, we don't have any options to kick-back on disease. This meant we had to spray more regularly with sulphurs and we ended up with small amounts of Black Spot - a fungal infection on the apples. The water rate we spray at is 2000L/Ha, which means we didn't have the option of Helicopter spraying in the wettest periods. The size profile of our apples suffered, as we can't spray synthetic fertilizers like conventional growers do. We rely on natural products like compost and sheep grazing for the soil health, and seaweed sprays on the trees."

Bayleaf Organics, along with most of the industry have faced many challenges in the last few years. Workforce supply challenges, weather, Covid mandates, rising costs and inflation, changing markets to name a few.

"We have been through workforce challenges, but through the RSE Scheme (Recognised Seasonal Employer) we now have a steady supply of amazing men who travel from Samoa each year to work for us from November to May. The same men come back each year, meaning we have experienced, highly trained men thinning and picking our apples. Our business is still paying back the money we lost from the government restrictions during Covid, when our workforce wasn't allowed to enter the country until the end of the 2021 season, and we had to pay huge sums of money to get them here from Covid free Samoa. A very stressful time for us all. Craig and I lean on each other and our family for support, and have found talking with other growers and business owners is helpful.

The organic market seems to be a relatively stable market. Consumers are slowly being educated about the difference between conventional and organic growing methods, and according to Wendy this seems to help with the popularity of organics.

"We have several avenues for the sale of our apples; We have our own export business, exporting to Viva Tierra in the States. Biotropic in Holland import and sell our apples in Europe, and RD8 sell into Taiwan and the United Kingdom. We are developing a healthy local market in New Zealand too, with supermarket programs, and small local deliveries to health food stores and hostels close to home."

For more information:
Wendy Dowling
Bayleaf Organics
Tel: +64 274 506 899
[email protected]