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Hinemoa Quality Producers

The business employs 20 staff, 15 of those as casuals and five fulltime employees.

The property is 283ha, comprising about 175ha of land for growing and 100 ha farmed as run off. “Essentially, 90% of what we do is on the home farm and we also lease 25 hectares from a neighbour,” Vikki says.

“The beauty is we don’t have to go off-site or transport machinery or harvesting gear around. We basically stay put, which is great productivity-wise, and we have enough land to rotate paddocks.”

Chris is the third generation to farm the property. His grandfather purchased the land in 1945 when it was a sheep and beef farm.

“In the 1970s Chris’s father leased some land to growers and saw the benefit of growing.They also had issues with Facial Eczema in the sheep and decided to diversify into growing.”

When Chris and his brother came home they got on the growing bandwagon too. “It has just flourished from there. We’ve got a 17-year-old son who is very interested, and we imagine he will be the fourth generation here.” 

Vikki says the farm is the perfect size for them, from both a production and profitability perspective, and the geographical location is a huge plus.

“We are currently not looking at growing in terms of land ownership, we feel the size is productive and manageable, and the business is profitable. The business is growing in itself in terms of market share and customer base.”

In fact, they can’t supply enough to meet the demand. “That’s a healthy place to be. We’re one hour from Auckland CBD so we have access to wholesale markets for products – that’s a big advantage. Our geographical location is positive and, moving forward, with urban sprawl the demand is growing. It’s huge.”

Consumer is king

Things have changed in terms of what the consumer wants, especially with the rise of companies like My Food Bag, and ‘ready to go’ food.

“Twenty years ago we were selling potatoes in a 20kg sack, now we package in 20, 10 and 5kg bags because that’s what consumers want. The demand for the product is huge, just because of the population, and that’s only going to increase,” Vikki explains.

Owning trucks and having control over their transport is also a massive advantage.

“We control where it’s going and have traceability. Now, people want to know where their food has come from.

“We’re also dealing with a perishable product, we try to dig to order so produce is as fresh as it can be. We deliver to customers that do high volumes and are turning it over quickly, so it’s not sitting around.”

Progressing together

A supportive bank and lending partner has been important to the success and growth of the Nicholson’s business, and they have found that partner in Rabobank.

The couple has been with the bank for about 15 years and value their relationship with long-term regional manager, Barry Roberts, and more recently, Charlie Harris.

“We were with a different bank, we moved to Rabobank and haven’t looked back. They have just been excellent to deal with and Barry Roberts was with us from the beginning,” Vikki says.

“This is a seasonal business, open to the challenges of weather and pricing. We’ve gone through some lean years where we have struggled, but the bank has always supported us and made us believe we could get through it.”

When they have wanted to make significant investments, like installing automated equipment in their packhouse, or building a winter catchment dam, the bank has been encouraging and forthcoming with lending, and structuring achievable repayment plans. 

“With weather and climate change we could not have progressed without irrigation, now we have pretty much fully irrigated the property and that’s allowed us to plant crops all year round and supply all year round.

“The bank really backed us on that (the dam) decision and that was a pivotal point for the success of the business.”

Vikki says they have found the team at Rabobank to be approachable, and always just a call away.

“They are always available and I think that’s where they have the edge. They will personally come out to the farm, which I like, the fact they are prepared to come to us.”

When the couple entered the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, the first vegetable growers to do so, eventually winning the Supreme award for the Waikato region for 2012, the bank helped them prepare for the financial section of the judging.

“We also have a nice social relationship with them. We sponsor Counties rugby up here and we have often had someone from the bank on our table, you just wouldn’t do that with someone you didn’t have a comfortable relationship with.”

The Nicholsons say they would not hesitate to recommend Rabobank, and have done so over the years. “I think that’s the highest form of praise you can give them, as a bank and lending partner.”