16 Jul 2018

Wairoa set to tap into 'hops, hemp, horticulture' production

12:07 pm on 16 July 2018

Could Wairoa become the next foodbowl of New Zealand?

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A Māori land trust in Wairoa is working to untap the potential for food production in the area. Photo: Image: Wairoa District Council.

The Poutama Trust, a Māori business development service, is working with a Māori land trust in Wairoa to untap the potential for food production.

Paroa Trust chairman Luis McDonnell said the organisation was working toward a hops trial.

The coastal strip of land between Whakakī in the north and Bayview near Napier had a unique climate which allowed crops to mature three weeks earlier than other areas in the district.

"So you can get early produce into market that's not really being exploited," Mr McDonnell said.

The use of land for sheep and cattle farming was becoming less profitable.

"Well I don't think that Wairoa will ever not be a farming centre, but I think what's happening now, from our point of view, is we're evaluating different land use options to get a high return on investment.

"That's why we're looking at things like hops, hemp, horticulture."

Mr McDonnell believed this diversification would boost to the economy and create more jobs too.

"It's quite a depressed area. The average household income of our people is relatively low, I think around the low $20,000, and we need to get these initiatives going and keep the money circulating in the area."

Last month the Wairoa-Napier railway line was opened for the first time in six years by regional development minister Shane Jones.

The first train on the Napier to Wairoa line in six years heads out.

The first train on the Napier to Wairoa line in six years heads out. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

His $1 billion-a-year provincial growth fund has been tasked with revitalising the economy of long forgotten rural centres.

Poutama Trust chief executive Richard Jones has been working with Māori land trusts in the area for the past four years to diversify the use of their land.

"In Wairoa we see the opportunity for a number of the Māori land trusts to collaborate, which can give them a bit of scale.

"And they can pull resources and help de-risk opportunities that they're looking at."

Mr Jones said there was a number of exciting ways Māori land could be utilised.

"Some might be suitable to apples and vegetables, some might be just suitable for just raising sheep and cattle, and others might open into looking into other sorts of crops such as hops and even hemp."

The Poutama Trust is also working alongside the Wairoa ICT Club - an group for local kids to learn about the profession through gaming and coding.

Curve Technology owner Andrew Hume, which runs the club, said as more horticultural jobs became automated, the need for IT professionals in the area would grow.

"If we don't have people here with those skills then we have to import people … which doesn't help our economy."