Horticulture Futures Northland

June 2024

Opportunities for careers and economic development in Te Tai Tokerau.

Providing opportunities for careers and economic development in Te Tai Tokerau Northland lie behind recent work and investments in infrastructure for food production and natural product-based manufacturing. Efforts include the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park, and the Matawii water reservoir. They are the result of iwi, industry professionals, businesses, and educators working together to maximise the potential of this region. 


Bruce Campbell is currently a director of peak industry body Horticulture New Zealand and has previously chaired its Northland Horticulture Careers Progression Governance Group. He is helping to create career progression pathways to address workforce gaps in horticulture across Te Tai Tokerau. In January 2023, Bruce was awarded a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to plant and food research. When holding the position of chief operating officer of Plant and Food Research from 2008 to 2018, he introduced and actively promoted initiatives to help Māori and Pacific students get into science education and careers, and championed development of the Plant and Food Research Student Internship Programme. 


Bruce believes the local advantages of climate and an under-utilised workforce in Te Tai Tokerau Northland will be well served by creating more opportunities for education and training, as well as developing supporting infrastructure for horticulture enterprises. He is a participant in developing the Aotearoa Horticulture Action Plan, part of a Horticulture New Zealand initiative.  The goal is to double the farmgate value of horticultural production in Aotearoa New Zealand to $12 billion a year by 2035 (from the current $6 billion) and to do this in a manner that adds prosperity for people as well as protecting the environment. Included in the plan are ambitions to support the development of future opportunities and pathways for rangatahi in horticulture nation-wide. An education programme for future employers and employees is a component of this.  


A recent development in Te Tai Tokerau aligning with these ambitions is the 240ha Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park (NIEP). It has been established on what was previously a dairy farm, three kilometres out of Kaikohe. The Park is managed by Far North Holdings Ltd, working in collaboration with mana whenua Ngāti Rangi, Northland Inc. (the regional economic development agency) and the local business community. Further support is provided by the FoodBowl and the Employers & Manufacturers Association.  


The park has been designed around the contours of the land it sits upon, and mindful of ecologically sensitive areas, protecting the fauna and flora within its boundaries. An additional bonus of the Park’s location is the Top Energy geothermal power plant nearby, that can provide a low-cost, sustainable supply of electricity. NIEP has adopted a holistic approach across all areas of development and a long-term commitment to community.  


Park Business activator Justine Stuart explains that the NIEP has a ‘four-pou’ approach: to enable high value manufacturing and production; to encourage innovation, research, and development; to develop and support a local workforce; and to create a circular economy.  


Current tenants at the Park include: Kaikohe Berries; Te Pūkenga Northtec (with the campus currently managed by Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe); Āteanui Ltd (growing and investigating additional uses for peruperu – varieties of traditional Māori potatoes); and the Mahinga Innovation Centre. Additionally, the Regent Training Centre provides trades training such as housing construction, electrical, etc., and feeds into courses at Te Pūkenga. 


The Mahinga Innovation Centre forms a central hub at the park and is managed by Northland Inc. It provides shared co-working spaces for collaboration, research, and education. It also houses facilities to support future Te Tai Tokerau businesses. There are ‘hot’ desks and meeting rooms for hire, an on-site café, and laboratories for nutraceutical and food manufacturing and research. 


Suzanne Hall (founder of natural skin care company, Living Nature) has been involved in natural skin care products manufacture for many years. She now heads up the Natural Products Cluster at NIEP. It has been designed to guide and support natural product development within the beauty, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sectors. There are two dedicated small-scale GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice)-certified laboratories with equipment for developing natural skincare, rongoā (a traditional Māori healing system), and other health products. The laboratories can produce between 200 and 1000 units in a run, well suited for proof of concept and testing products, as well as for commercial use.  


Āteanui Ltd grows peruperu (a variety of traditional Māori potatoes) on 5ha of NIEP land and are looking to expand their operations and area under cultivation. Alongside the desire to provide nourishing kai for whanau and the wider community, they are investigating uses for peruperu by-products such as a biofuel component, or ingredient for a range of spirit-based drinks. Tahu Warmington leads out the hard physical mahi and together with partner Moana Timoko, exemplifies the stated ambitions of the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park as a place to provide opportunities for business enterprise.  Āteanui have developed a ‘buy in’ model to support whānau to reconnect or connect with some traditional growing practices aligned with the Maramataka Māori (Māori Calendar). 


Marea Timoko is Tumuaki (Principal) of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe and the Campus Manager for Te Pūkenga. She is building strong links between various education and business providers at NIEP, such as the mahi at Āteanui for ākonga at the Kura, providing ongoing links between business, education and whenua. 


Northland enjoys high average annual rainfall, but a lack of storage has meant much of this resource wasn’t available for use in times of shortage. This has in part been addressed by construction of the Matawii water reservoir near Kaikohe, supported by a Provincial Growth Fund loan and initiated by Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust. The Trust was created in mid-2020 to construct water storage and distribution schemes in two areas of Northland (near Kaikohe, and on the northern Pouto peninsula, south of Dargaville). These areas have high-quality soils and, with the addition of a reliable water supply, significant horticultural potential.  


The Matawii reservoir covers about 18 hectares with a capacity of 750,000 m3. The Main Dam embankment at Matawii is 24m high. It is currently filled by its catchment, but once demand increases, water can be pumped from a nearby stream to ensure reliability. In addition, a major planting programme is underway around the reservoir, with over 39,000 native plants in the ground as of November 2023, and more planting planned for 2024. 


By creating these kinds of reservoirs and distribution schemes, landowners with access to them will be able to plan and implement future land use changes with greater confidence. The Trust’s objective is to develop several independent water schemes to enable the establishment of commercially viable and environmentally sustainable horticulture, providing economic and employment opportunities in both regions. They will also produce additional capacity for municipal water supplies, should district councils elect to buy shares in the schemes, so water restrictions in towns like Kaikohe and Dargaville could be reduced. 


The Trust’s long-term plan is to transition to separate water companies controlled by their shareholders. With funding assistance from Kānoa - Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit, and support from The Northland Regional Council, the Trust managed to supply water to the Kaikohe and Poutu areas by 2023. 


While Matawii will enable horticulture development opportunities to Kaikohe (and its surrounds) through the availability of water for Irrigation, it will also provide water resilience to the Kaikohe Town Water Supply, as well as to the Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park for daily office and café requirements, manufacturing and firefighting.