6 | RURAL PEOPLE » Oakley’s Premium Fresh Vegetables Growing great veg Oakley’s Golden Gourmet potatoes won silver in the Food Hero category at this year’s NZ Food Awards. Sue Russell R obin Oakley’s family has been tilling their land in Canterbury for five generations and he’s proud to be carrying on the tradition. “Actually we may soon be having the sixth generation working in the business and there aren’t many horticultural enterprises that hark back that long.” The main yard on Cryers Road, is also home to the packhouse and processing facilities, however these days, the Oakley family are growing vegeta- bles on three other blocks of land they own, while also extending their footprint to pockets of leased land in the region. In total, currently Oakley Premium Fresh Vegetables are growing crops over 450 hectares And when you carry the genes of growers extending back to Robin’s great great grandfather, John Oakley, who began growing in the 1870’s you develop a real respect for the land and for the importance of the fresh vegetable industry in New Zealand. “My grandfather Walter Oakley was responsible for developing ground-breaking technologies that impacted how vegetables were grown. He left a wonderful legacy that we carry on to this day with our modern planting, harvesting, processing and packing systems,” Robin says. Oakley Premium Fresh Vegetables grow pota- toes, beetroot, pumpkin, brocolli and a selection of arable crops for rotational purposes on their own land. The business employs 50 FTE, including managers and team leaders and when Rural South caught up with Robin, broccoli harvesting was busy as usual, while beetroot, pumpkins and potatoes were being washed and packed. Brocolli is harvested all year round while pumpkins are harvested annually in April. Potatoes are harvested between December through to September and are supplied all year round. Beetroot is also harvested from December to August. Accordingly, there’s a strong rhythm and flow to seasonal activity. The bulk of product is sold in the South Island, however North Island customers can access Oakley premium potatoes through New World and Pak ‘n Save outlets. “It’s our Golden Gourmet Potatoes that have re- ally impacted the market. They have proven very popular with potato lovers who demand the best possible texture and flavour.” As proof of this, in this year’s NZ Food Awards, Oakley’s Golden Gourmet Potatoes were selected as finalists in the Food Hero category, ultimately gaining Silver. “We were thrilled to have this recognition. We know we grow a great product and this award, along with other in the past simply confirmed what we know.” COVID has brought challenges finding the num- ber and right sort of staff, as Robin explains. “Prior to COVID we had two intakes of our own RSE people and we put them into our business because we were so reliant on holiday workers. Holiday workers were always short-term. The RSE workers came from Vanuatu and were bril- liant, hard-working people.” Sadly, it’s been Robin’s experience that gener- ally Kiwis don’t have the grit or desire to work, the way RSE workers do. Even with tempting amounts of money that can be earned, he still struggles to find a local who is reliable and understands that growing veggies requires a strong work ethic. “Sometimes I advertise and get responses and then no-one bothers to turn up for an interview. Or I take them on and they’re gone by lunch- time.” Robin finds the increasing minimum wage is a big challenge to his business as they are generally price takers and don’t have the ability to pass on the extra cost. The wage expense in his business is the single highest cost and has an immediate significant impact on the financial sustainability. “It’s our Golden Gourmet Potatoes that have really impacted the market. They have proven very popular with potato lovers who demand the best possible texture and flavour.” 03 308 6022 30 JB Cullen Drive Ashburton Business Estate RIÀFH#UD\PD\QH FR Q] ZZZ UD\PD\QH FR Q] NZ Importer/Distributor We are pleased to provide 5HLQNH LUULJDWLRQ HTXLSPHQW to Oakleys Premium Fresh Vegetables Ltd. &XVWRP 'HVLJQ Installation 0DQXIDFWXULQJ 4XDOLW\ ,PSRUWV 6HUYLFH Support ([SHULHQFH • Concrete • Fertiliser Spreading - Farm Mapping - GPS Tracking - Variable Rate Spreading • Livestock Cartage • Grain Cartage • Shingle Supplies • Daily Freight Leeston: 03 3248 070 Dunsandel: 03 3254 039 email@example.com Office: 03 324 2949 Mobile: 027 279 6447 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.ealgroup.co.nz Southbridge & Hororata BALING, STRAW & SILAGE, CARTAGE, CULTIVATION Servicing the contracting needs of farmers across Central Canterbury. Call us today to discuss your requirements A member of the Horizon Energy Group 021 227 6878 0800 772 077 Proud to support and work with Oakleys Premium Fresh Vegetables. For all your Industrial Refrigeration and Automation Solutions.