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11-hectare greenhouse project officially opened in New Zealand

Today, New Zealand horticultural business LeaderBrand hosted Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who officially opened their completed 11-hectare mega greenhouse project in Tairāwhiti.

LeaderBrand is one of New Zealands leading horticultural businesses. The company was set up in 1975, when founder Murray McPhail took over the family sheep and cattle farm, converting it to grow his first crop of potatoes. "It was a humble start on 40-odd hectares of farmland, but with some grit, ingenuity, and a whole lot of hard work, LeaderBrand evolved from a small family venture to New Zealand's leading horticulture business", the company recalls.

With the new greenhouse, the company aims to accelerate crop growth year-round more sustainably, helping to mitigate weather impacts, significantly reducing fertilizer and water usage as well as protecting soil structure. It also ensures job security and supports Tairāwhiti's $62.5 million horticulture and fruit industry.

Although highly motivated, the project hasn't been an easy one to complete. In October 2019 already, the Provincial Development Unit (now Kānoa, Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit) approved a Provincial Growth Fund loan to help fund the ambitious construction and help boost regional development in Tairāwhiti. In the same year, Leaderbrand appointed the Richel Group from France to supply the greenhouse structures, but the first lockdown in March 2020 significantly impacted the construction. Subsequent lockdowns continued to impact the project's timelines, with international shipping delays and border restrictions continuing to severely impact the building schedule.

Thanks to continuous pivot and adaptation, the team was able to complete the first 3-hectare in 2022. "Undercover farming will be a massive change to the way we currently farm but we think that this style of farming will be the way of the future. The first lot of crops is going to be a lot of trial and error but we're really looking forward to the greenhouses helping to mitigate most weather impacts and supply variations while allowing us to explore more technology and farm more sustainably", said Gordon McPhail, LeaderBrand's General Manager Farming, back then.

Now, the complete 11 hectare facility has been completed. Equipped with a 40 million liter water dam and one million liter treated water tank, rainfall collected from the roof of the greenhouses will be stored in the dam and used all year round within the greenhouses. The greenhouses are equipped with a high-tech irrigation system, consisting of underground pipes running all the way from the back greenhouse through to the dam. This system helps to make this project completely self-sufficient in water. The greenhouses are expected to consume 800,000 liters of irrigated water a day from the supply dam and treatment tank.

Shane Jones, Minister for Regional Development, was joined by local dignities, including the mayor, to officially open the greenhouses with a ribbon cutting before taking a tour of the facility.

Head of Kānoa, Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit, Robert Pigou, also attended the event and said he was extremely proud to see this ambitious project now complete and operational.

"LeaderBrand's covered houses are an excellent example of what investing in the regions can accomplish. The Provincial Growth Fund was designed to help support rural businesses, just like this one, to expand, innovate, and create more jobs. We can already see the benefits that this project is having not only on the wider community but also on New Zealand's food security, especially during extreme weather events. Well done to all the LeaderBrand team for what they have achieved here, they should be exceptionally proud," said Pigou.

Richard Burke, LeaderBrand's chief executive, says that without the support of Kānoa, Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit the company would never have been able to take on this ambitious project. "The size and magnitude of this build was well beyond what we could have achieved without this financial support. We had already invested heavily in our salad processing business and additional land; the covered house was the next strategic step. The regional fund has enabled us to complete our goal."

Wild rocket
"This project has not only allowed us to invest in our business and the region's future, but it has also ensured that we can guarantee the supply of leafy greens year-round," he says. "Ensuring food security and finding more ways to fed Kiwis with healthy and affordable fresh produce is a big motivator for all of us."

With the completion of the covered greenhouses, LeaderBrand has been able to successfully trial and produce a new product to their salad range, wild rocket.

"The unique and controlled environment of the greenhouse allows us to grow delicate salad leaves like spinach and wild rocket, protecting the plants from the elements. Traditionally, it is difficult to grow rocket throughout winter, but the benefit of the greenhouses will ensure consistency of supply throughout the year," Richard added.

Richard added after the "highly successful pilot, the team is excited to look at investing into more covered fields and how to include more of their crops into the covered growing programme. "We'll also be testing and utilising new technology from the house for both our indoor and outdoor programmes which ultimately, will enable us to extend our domestic and export offerings."

"All our team are incredibly proud to have the facility officially opened by Minister Jones. It has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this stage. Not even a global pandemic, MIQ issues, freight delays, covid and a lot of terrible weather, has stopped us delivering on this goal,"

The LeaderBrand Future Farm site was blessed by Morehu Pewhairangi of Te Aitanga a Mahaki iwi the day before in a private ceremony with the greenhouse team.

For more information:
Katherine Klouwens
Tel: +64 21 484 026

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