Crunching the numbers: Innovating apple production with Ben James

Crunching the numbers: Innovating apple production with Ben James

Craigmore Sustainables is an agricultural investment company that prides itself on building and managing farms, orchards and forests, managing over $1 billion worth of assets.

One of their recent developments is an apple orchard and the man behind that is Craigmore Sustainables Business Manager Ben James, who explains what sets the company apart from other competitors.

Throughout the conversation, James highlights the innovative practices that are setting Craigmore's orchards apart, with sustainability at the forefront of their operations. One of the major talking points revolves around Craigmore's efforts to revolutionise apple production through smart irrigation systems and trials to eliminate plastic from their processes. 

James passionately describes how their advanced irrigation system is "extremely intelligent," allowing for precise fertigation based on monthly leaf tests. This method ensures that they are not "just blanket fertigating or fertilising our soils either," but rather responding to the real-time needs of the apple trees. 

Furthermore, James touches upon the social aspects of their sustainability drive, particularly their approach to labour management. He discusses creating "sustainable employment opportunities rather than casual, seasonal employment opportunities," which is significant in smaller rural regions like Waipara or Waipukurau. 

This approach not only benefits the environment but also supports the local community. The conversation also covers the importance of attracting youth to the horticulture industry. James shared a heartfelt account of how Craigmore is involved in a youth education program that prepares young individuals for the workforce, teaching them about punctuality, self-presentation, and the importance of work ethic. 

He mentions that for New Zealand's primary industries to succeed, it's vital to "focus on making primary industries attractive to youth coming out of school and creating decent career pathways into the industry."

The upcoming challenges and plans for Craigmore's 2024 season are also part of the discussion, with James revealing the excitement around preparing for their largest harvest yet and the integration of newly acquired properties. 

"It's pretty hard to find something that gets me out of bed like growing apples and growing people does," he says. 

In terms of varieties, James lists several, including Breeze, Jude Gala, Envy, and Cosmic Crisp, noting that they are New Zealand's largest grower of the latter. He also highlighted the popularity of the Rocket variety, especially in Asian markets where food safety and the convenience of pick-and-go products are highly valued. 

This conversation with Ben James offers a glimpse into the meticulous and caring approach to apple production at Craigmore Sustainables. It underscored the company's commitment to environmental stewardship and the positive social impact it strives to make within the industry and the broader community.

Listen to the full chat between Ben James and Dominic George above.

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