Sun finally shining on citrus industry

10 July 2024

After a century of working land in the Gisborne region the Ladd family has learned – often the hard way – that diversification in both crops and locations is key to continuing success.

“It's been a rugged three or four years, but some parts of the region have been hit harder than others,” says David Ladd, who manages his family's Burnside Trust orchard operation.

“So, while we've had some tough losses, we've been lucky enough to keep some blocks and crops working while focusing on remediation for the others.”

Citrus and persimmons in particular, had coped with a wet 2022 followed by cyclones Hale and Gabrielle in early 2023, then a further ten months of rain and sodden soil.

“The cyclones were challenging but it was the big rains four months later, in June, that had the big impact,” David says.

“Last year we were just gearing up to pick Satsuma mandarins on one block but lost the lot … $20,000 to $30,000 gone in one go.

“This year it's a different story. The wet spring leading up to this year did impact on flowering so it's not a heavy crop, but the fruit is clean, and the size is pretty good, which is better than we expected.”

Building on the legacy of Pātūtahi land bought by Frank and Rosabel Ladd in 1924, the move from bare land to horticulture was made by David's parents John and Valerie when they planted grapes in the late 1970s, soon followed by kiwifruit.

Since then, Burnside Trust has developed an operation over 70 hectares – owning 40 of those while sharecropping the rest.

And they're busy across all seasons managing plantings of citrus, apples, persimmons and kiwifruit, with multiple varieties within each product group.

As a member of the fourth generation of Ladds to farmland around Gisborne, David brings decades of experience to the orchard operation.

“Growing up I was involved with cropping on family land, and when I left school, I worked with companies like Cedenco, Judco and LeaderBrand,” he says. “So, I've been involved with growing stuff my whole life.”

In the early 2000s – while in his mid-20s – David headed off for his OE and got stuck into building work in the United Kingdom.

A couple of years later the call came: John and Valerie wanted to switch things up and hoped he'd come home to help them.

And in the two decades from then that's what he did … grapevines were pulled, apples went in, new kiwifruit orchards were established, and David took over management of the Burnside operation.

Throughout the years though, citrus has been a mainstay.

“Of the 70 hectares we own or manage around 35 hectares is devoted to citrus, about half in navel oranges and the rest smaller blocks of mandarins, lemons, tangelos, limes, grapefruit and Valencia oranges,” says David.

“It is those blocks, together with the persimmons, that have come through these last couple of years with the least amount of damage. We definitely had some tree losses and a couple of crappy seasons, but they coped much better than the apples and kiwifruit, so that's been a source of strength for us.”

Over the next few months, the Burnside team will be full steam ahead harvesting citrus varieties as they come on-stream, as well as replanting young orchards like the Jugala apples that suffered a 40 percent tree loss in the wake of the cyclones.

“We're also keen to get going on a new block of persimmons that had to be put aside as we focused on more urgent things,” says David.

“So, we'll continue with established varieties we know will work, while at the same time trying out new products as they become available so we can stay relevant in the market.

“Most new products have a 20-year cycle of popularity and it's our aim to be at the beginning of that cycle, not at the end.”

And despite prevailing headwinds, from high interest rates to a supermarket duopoly, David Ladd plans to keep driving that development.

“There is a lot to be said for working through the seasons, as no two days in this job are ever the same,” he says.

“I enjoy being outside and I love the work, so I'm going to stick with it.”


This story was originally published in the July issue of The Orchardist.