Day one – ASB Arena

The first day of conference was held at the city’s vibrant sporting and events venue, the ASB Stadium in Mt Maunganui. While ‘summerfruiters’ were conferencing on the top floor, below the many sporting activities in the gymnasium continued, which offered a nice backdrop of sporting activity.

With people arriving from all over the country, registration was the all important first step. Smiles were wide and much shaking of hands was done between those hadn’t seen each other for a while, and among others being introduced for the first time.

The first formal duty of the day saw Summerfruit NZ chairman, Tim Jones, take the podium to officially open the conference. He promised there would be several take home messages and thanked the conference’s new major sponsor, MG Marketing. Roger Georgieff, MG’s national procurement manager, took the opportunity to welcome everyone and said his company was proud to be platinum sponsor of the event.

Roger encouraged growers to be challenged, to learn and to make the most of the many networking opportunities available.

Next to the stage was coaching legend, Sir Gordon Tietjens for his subject talk, ‘leading from the front’. The entire audience was captivated by this bare-all, straight-talking and fascinating insight into the world of leadership and winning gold from the former All Black Sevens coach’s perspective.

Sir Gordon offered his hard-earned and entirely practical knowledge on the processes of selecting individuals for winning teams. He explained how to create a culture that keeps people winning at the sharp end, while at the same time, enjoying their work. He covered everything from strategy, to mindsets, and extended into humorous examples from real life. Sir Gordon showed clearly how simple yet powerful methods could be instantly applied to any work situation to get people refocused and perhaps most importantly, realising and releasing their own hidden potential.

Sir Gordon’s messages were solid and commanding, but they left people with confidence in that they could return home and instil new energy into their staff teams. There’s something really magical about hearing the words ‘from the horse’s mouth’ and Gordon’s traffic light analogy of ‘are you, or your team, a red, yellow or green’ will never be forgotten when appraisals need to be done of oneself and others.

Following on from this sporting great, was one of the kiwifruit industry’s business success stories.

Michael Franks, chief executive of Seeka, provided an overview of his company’s work and vision for the future. It certainly gave business owners another lens from which to benchmark their thoughts on just how far a New Zealand-based company could aspire to with their products and global reach.

Just before the lunch break, Stuart Tustin, a principal scientist at Plant & Food Research, delivered some thoughts on pushing the boundaries of orchard design, testing and production modelling work, which has been trialled with apples and cherries over the last few years.

Stuart said apples are good ‘lab rats’ and therefore, a tonne of information has been gathered about the crop. The basis of this intelligence could easily be transferred to summerfruit crops. He asked the audience not to freak out and go call the men in white coats, but just to stay with him for an interesting 20 minutes of what is being proven with new orchard design in research sites.

This work is the start of an exciting and bold adventure, he said. The changes were not intended to be meagre – they are to be seen as ‘transformational’ change in every sense of the word.

Stuart knew he had a captive audience and heartily welcomed any contact from curious growers who see the potential of Future Orchard Planting Systems (FOPS). Plus, if they are as equally as excited as him, to get stuck in – boots and all – to advance this game-changing innovation in the future of orcharding, that would be sweet music to his ears.

Following lunch on day one, attendees were again confronted in the most colourful and friendliest of ways by tech ‘quick tips’ guru, Debbie Mayo-Smith.

This computer-savvy crusader ranks in the top seven per cent of speakers world-wide, and it’s easy to see why. Debbie’s infectious love of the magic of mobility made sure that no self-respecting working person of today would ever look at their smart phone in the same way.

Productivity is her number one call-cry and sometimes, it’s just easier when you have such a vivacious person such as Debbie delivering these much-needed messages. Who says you can’t teach an old dog some new tech tricks in one session – just ask anyone who saw Debbie in action! 

In a turn of direction, the next speaker was Zespri’s Carol Ward who talked about innovating for success. Carol has held overseas posts in Belgium, Taiwan and Singapore, but has now returned to New Zealand to take on the role of general manager, innovation.

Next up was a remarkable look into the latest developments in the micro-world of tissue culture, DNA fingerprinting of plants and the process surrounding the time-consuming importation of new cultivars into the country.

Jennifer Aitken (yes, that’s Trisha Aitken’s sister) from The Tree Lab gave a once-over of what new technologies may be required for the future of summerfruit crops in New Zealand. Her work has mainly been in the kiwifruit and forestry industries, but the science developed is just as applicable to the summerfruit sector.

Growers could immediately relate to the relevance of Jennifer’s material, and her messages that inevitable uptake of such technology as being critical for the future success of the industry.

The fact that setting up a genetic DNA fingerprint database of cultivars would be a one-off and quite reasonable cost, came as a welcome surprise to most. Such genetics could be traced from tree to quite literally, the end product. The fruit found in drinks, or used in yoghurts, can easily be traced back to its source – a mind-blowing but real fact. At this point, there was an eerie silence in the room as people began to see the global significance of her information.

Following afternoon tea, the tide turned to something all of us tend to struggle with these days – information management. Simon Lind from Montage discussed future tools for this increasingly important part of running an orchard business.

A natural progression from this talk was the launch of the Summerfruit NZ’s new website and secure portal. Both Victoria Harris, communications advisor, and Anna Clark, administrator, shared their practical knowledge of the system which will help take the organisation to the next level for growers.

And as always – there was a plug for any change of contact details to be notified to head office, so that every sort of communication can get to the right people – right first time.

A hardy group stayed for the 23rd Annual General Meeting of Summerfruit NZ, chaired by Tim Jones, and assisted by chief executive Marie Dawkins.