Giving up summer holidays and playing weekend sports is all part of growing up when you’re a fifth-generation orchardist. Carrying on the family legacy was one of the reasons Mark Jackson wanted to continue what his father Kevin started at Jackson Orchards, just outside the picturesque town of Cromwell in Central Otago.
Jackson Orchards grow predominantly apricots, but also a variety of peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, greengages, apples and pears during their season from November to April.
The family have run the current property since 1989. This was after they were bumped off the original orchard Kevin purchased in the Cromwell Gorge in 1969, which was acquired by the government to make way for the Clyde Dam in the 80s.
“When we had to leave the orchard in the gorge, I decided not to carry on growing fruit and started looking at other business options,” said Kevin. “But Mark and his sister Kirstin were keen to stay in the business and had a
passion for the growing.”
For Mark it was an easy transition from being raised on the land to working on it full-time. “Life was pretty good growing up on the orchard in the gorge,” says Mark.
“When I wasaround 18 Dad asked me what I wanted to do and it was pretty clear I was keen on life on the orchard.”
Kevin joked that the conversation reminded him of when he told his parents he wanted to get into growing and they tried to talk him out of it.
“When we decided to develop a new orchard, this old sheep farm was the logical place,” said Kevin. “It’s the right location and also has a bit of history as it was the first property settled in the Upper Clutha district by a gentleman called Jackson Barry who became the first mayor of Cromwell.”
“When we bought this property it was all bare land,” added Mark. “This original homestead, where I live now, dates back to 1862.”
You’d think that with a family history of growing dating back to the early 1860’s they knew it all. But Kevin, Mark and Kirstin (who runs the Freeway operation), have continued to learn and evolve. They love all the complexities, challenges and the various elements of orcharding, innovating and packing. Bringing all the skills together to constantly produce high-quality fruit people love eating.
Kevin encourages his children to talk to other growers, as he has done over the years and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather did before him.
“I was brought up in an environment where growers exchanged ideas,” said Kevin. “Our orchard was in the town of Alexandra when I was young and there was a hort-inspector who lived nearby. Because my father’s orchard was in the town, we were often involved in trials and would host field days for growers to come and take a look.”
“Then, on Fridays, growers would often come into town and while their wives were getting groceries, the men would call in for smoko. It’s where a lot of good ideas were exchanged.”
“We’ve always welcomed other local growers in, sometimes we even get interest from other parts of the world.”
When you visit Jackson Orchards you can see the innovation immediately. The fruit trees are grown using the tatura trellis - a close planting system where the trees are trained to form a V shaped canopy.
“We find that we grow a better quality of fruit, partly because they’re sheltered and partly because the pickers get a better view of the fruit. When it comes to pruning the tree and hand-thinning, they make a better job of it, so at the end of the day fruit is better when it comes to harvesting," said Kevin.
“And the economics stack up with one acre being equivalent to three acres in production which leads to enormous gains – for the 30 ha we put in we would have had to plant 90 ha to get the same tonnage.”
The orchard would also have to be one of the tidiest in New Zealand. This is not only because they offer orchard tours as another profit line, but Kevin says it results in less wastage.
Jackson Orchards started its ongoing relationship with MG in the early days of growing and Kevin described the relationship as “faultless”. He recalls the time a MG employee, (and future CEO) Tom Treacy, persuaded him into becoming a shareholder – a decision he is pleased with today.
“I think it was about forty pounds to sign up as shareholder,” says Kevin. “Back then I didn’t have 40 pounds but Tom talked me into it and somehow, I scratched it together. It ended up being a great decision with bonus shares and dividends over the past few years.”
Image 1: MG Procurement Manager, Andrew Cross, and Mark Jackson.
Image 2: Kevin and Mark Jackson.