Beyond protein: How can you make money from crops on a lifestyle block?

When most people think of a New Zealand lifestyle block, they might picture a few beef cattle, maybe a sheep or two, and a few chickens. But can you still make money if you want to go beyond protein and get into horticulture?

Pat Tetley says anyone thinking about it should know they’ll have to work a bit.

But visiting him and his wife Sue on their now two-hectare lifestyle block in Waiau Pa, Auckland, I realize they both see weekend ‘work’ as a hobby. .

The two have a productive avocado orchard and harvest each year for Avoco, an avocado marketing company. Tetley and a group of friends are brewing beer. He and other growers in the region are also helping to develop improved crops through studying the application of soil science.

Sue Tetley dabbles in beekeeping, also studies regenerative agriculture practices, owns a lush vegetable garden, and writes and illustrates children’s books from her studio on the property.

In 2001, the Tetleys, both teachers at the time, were looking for a property that had to meet certain requirements.

There had to be enough land for them to grow a garden, and they wanted to earn some sort of income from a harvest.

They realized they could either buy a nice house on a small lot or buy a bigger lot with a house that needed a lot of storage. They opted for the latter.

Avocado trees cost $12 when the Tetleys planted them.

Gerhard Uys/Stuff

Avocado trees cost $12 when the Tetleys planted them.

“We bought 5.9 hectares. The property was a bit run down with fences in need of repair. There were already good windbreaks (windbreaks create a microclimate). We pruned windbreaks, installed electric fences and bought 12 head of cattle. Livestock was a good first step. We had them to manage our weed, but when they got bigger, we sold them. We didn’t like sending them to the slaughterhouse, but we did that for three years while we decided what we could grow on the property,” explains Pat.

Sue had started researching possible crops, but some, like tamarillos or persimmons, presented challenges. There was no tamarillo packing plant nearby, which meant the Tetleys had to invest in a truck specifically to haul the harvest to the packing plant.

They learned that there were nearby avocado growers and a number of positive aspects of the crop that suited their way of life.

They started by planting 1.5 hectares of avocado trees. They went with the Hass variety because it was the most marketable avocado then and now.

“Trees cost $12 back then. It wasn’t a major undertaking, but we had to buy a tractor because it was recommended to raise the avocado trees by a hump and dip method, so that they would grow on semi-mounds and their roots would not rest not in the water. I borrowed a plow from a friend, bought some equipment from a neighbor to split the cost, and bought an old tractor.

At the height of production, the Tetleys had 470 trees on 3 hectares. They have already harvested up to 20 tons in one season.

Sue Tetley illustrates books from her home studio.

Gerhard Uys/Stuff

Sue Tetley illustrates books from her home studio.

Sue says it is not advisable to grow a crop without the support of industry experts, as there are many plant health, production, pest control and harvest variables to consider that the layman might not know, and it could cost you dearly in the long run. . Luckily for them, Avoco had consultants willing to help them.

A big consideration for the Tetleys was the fact that they both worked full time and only had weekends to tend to the crops. For the first two or three years, there wasn’t much management needed because the trees were young and small with little fruit.

“One of the benefits of avocados is that the fruit ripens over time and we can harvest at the weekend without pressure,” says Sue.

Avoco always provides them with a schedule for when their trucks will pick up the crop. To make it more efficient, the Tetleys outsource their harvest.

With foliar fertilization and the occasional pest spray, irrigation setup and irrigation plus pruning, a mature orchard requires a lot of management. All of this had to be done over the weekends.

They also had to deal with Karaka’s variable soil type on the block, which meant that not all parts of the block were equally fertile or drained well.

Sue conducts pest surveys on a monthly basis as required by AvoGreen. They are aware when pests reach a certain threshold, and because they are part of a grower program that allows them to decide when to apply pesticides, they only spray when absolutely necessary. Unlike many traditional growers, they don’t just follow a spray regimen dictated by a chemical company.

Sue Tetley says it was never about income.

Gerhard Uys/Stuff

Sue Tetley says it was never about income.

In 2003, Sue started using bees to pollinate her orchard.

“At one point I had 20 hives. We built a registered kitchen for honey extraction and sold honey at a nearby stall. We also sold honey in bulk to those who wanted it. We’re down to two hives now and outsource pollination, but we’re thinking of buying a few more. We have always made money with honey. I was never able to afford a salary as a beekeeper, but we always had change selling honey and avocados, and we never had to dip into the earnings of our part-time jobs. plenty for incidentals,” says Sue.

Because it wasn’t all about money, they could also decide that crops could go to food banks when needed, or engage in learning activities like testing pruning theories that would affect the harvest in order to learn.

“People need to understand that when you talk about how much money you make, you didn’t charge for your own work. It was never about income. It was about using the land and learn something new,” says Pat.

They recently downsized by selling four hectares because managing a large property is not as easy as it was ten years ago.

With land prices rising dramatically, the couple agree that doing what they did over 20 years ago may not be so easy now. However, Pat still thinks that if selling a house in town, buying a lifestyle property might not be completely out of reach. There are few variables to consider.

With lifestyle blocks, few questions often arise. When is a lifestyle block considered commercial? And can an average family enter the lifestyle market to pursue a dream of farming at least part-time?

The couple now have two beehives.

Gerhard Uys/Stuff

The couple now have two beehives.

According to reports from Apiculture New Zealand, there were over 10,000 registered beekeepers in New Zealand. In 2020, of these beekeepers, 75% owned 10 hives or less and were classified as hobbyists.

Despite this, hobbyists only own 2% of the hives in New Zealand.

In 2021, around 20,500 tons of honey were produced locally. With approximately 25.4 kg per hive produced. A beekeeper can expect to charge between $3.6 and $6 per kg for loose light clover honey, or between $8 and $120 per kg for mãnuka honey, according to MPI 2021 data. were massively influenced by the ranking.

Beekeepers who rented their hives for pollination services could expect to be paid between $100 and $400 per hive for the pollination period, depending on the region and crop.

Stores often sold 100g of honey for more than $6, earning home beekeepers almost ten times more than bulk sellers.

ANZ agricultural economist Susan Kilsby said defining a ‘business operation’ on a lifestyle block was a difficult task.

“It may be that a salary or a full-time household income is paid for by profit. These days, many people work split jobs or work part-time. There are many lifestylers who try to achieve a business operation but still continue with a full-time job. It’s not easy,” she said.

Kilsby says there are various opportunities for this on lifestyle blocks, but the challenge is often identifying the right avenues for a specific region.

“The challenge is that it’s different for every part of the country. The more intensive and riskier operations, such as horticulture, tend to generate more income. Such operations carry a lot of risk. You need to take into account external environmental considerations, such as whether you have the right climate for a specific crop. If not, you might be able to fit it through glass houses or windbreaks to reduce environmental risk.

Market access was often a limiting factor, with some scale needed to justify infrastructure spending. This may require groups of people to band together or a large investor to step in on a larger scale.

She said market knowledge was valuable in deciding what to grow.

“You can mitigate risk by planning ahead. For example, know which varieties the market demands. Apples for cider, for example, are easier to manage. It doesn’t matter if they’re stained, because processors are only after the juice. The success of operations depends on knowledge and access to the market, and a big challenge is knowing who will do the work. »

The Tetleys hired crews of workers to help with the harvest.

Keeping abreast of trends was also valuable. There is currently a demand for trees, especially native ones. Tree nurseries would often be run on small plots of land and if growers were in different areas from other growers, they might have a niche market, she said.

Access to land is a major barrier as land prices rise.

And how to finance agricultural enterprises on a lifestyle block?

Kilsby said funding for any lifestyle block business would generally be through one’s own savings or off-block income, with any loan always subject to a proven track record of a business to lend. Flexible home loans have also been used.

Comments are closed.