Strode Road Orchard was a long-established business by the time Lochie and Gretchen McNally took ownership two and a half years ago. Having grown up on beef and sheep farms, the couple had a passion for working out in the open and were determined to get back to the land.
Lochie ditched his career as a rural banking specialist while Gretchen continued nursing during the first year of business, however, the day-to-day demands of managing the new venture meant her skills were also required full-time on the orchard.
Located a short drive from Clyde in Central Otago, Strode Road Orchard use 20 hectares of fertile land to grow cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches and apricots every year. The wide-range and long season can make it difficult, but Lochie says it’s part of their recipe for success.
“It’s a fairly even spread across all summer fruit categories,” said Lochie. “We start in December and go through to late-March.”
“Growing different fruit extends our season and spreads risk and gives consistent work to all our employees. It allows us to keep the shed busy so we can be efficient and productive.”
In developing the business, they have been careful to maintain the high standards put in place by previous owners of the then Forrest Orchard, Bill and Kathy Forrest.
A lot of the growing has been learnt on the job and an advantage they have is the skills they bring from their life outside of horticulture. While they have been careful to listen to advice and stick to practices that have proven to be successful, they also bring a new way of thinking and have fresh ideas to enhance the business.
“You learn a lot in banking that you don’t learn in a lot of other occupations,” said Lochie. “It helps that I have an agri-background but I draw on my time in banking quite often.”
“It’s not just the financial side of the business, I spend a lot of time analysing how we do things, including the fruit, the varieties and how they are linked to our effort and returns.”
“Bill and Kathy have been extremely helpful as we’ve transitioned. They built a really good business and along the way we’ve made subtle changes to the way we operate and we’ve also had to make a number of big decisions about what varieties to pull out and what to plant.”
They’re kept busy 12 months of the year growing, packing, harvesting, spraying, pruning and planning. It's never ending, but they find it incredibly rewarding.
“We really enjoy the hands-on way of working but it’s full-noise and we probably underestimated just how busy it would be for an extended period,” says Gretchen.
“We’ve both grown up on farms so we know what it’s like to be mad-busy shearing or tailing for a couple of weeks. This is like that, but for four months and then the rest of year is hectic catching up and getting ready to go again.”
Lochie says he enjoys working with MG Marketing and involves Procurement Manager’s, Roger Georgieff and Andrew Cross, when he’s planning for the future. He says they also like the way the co-operative model provides benefits for its members.
“The summer fruit industry in New Zealand is relatively small so a co-operative model helps everyone - you’re much stronger when you’re all together,” says Lochie.
“I like the way the ownership flows further through the value chain and when you’re
paying commission on the fruit you sell, you know you’ll get it back in other ways.”
“The MG co-operative gives you a better understanding past the farm gate and the real transparency that all farmers need to run a successful business.”
Image 1: MG Representative Roger Georgieff and Lochie McNally
Image 2: Lochie & Gretchen McNally