Family businesses holding onto horticultural land in Pukekohe
By Josie Vidal
Horticulture New Zealand
Generations of investment, innovation and hard work have gone into the prime vegetable growing land in the Pukekohe area. Keeping land to produce fresh vegetables year round is one of the key issues for the horticultural businesses in the area, many of which are inter-generational family run companies. The squeeze is on between demand for Auckland housing and moves to clean up the Waikato River, which will severely restrict land use changes.
Pukekohe, Pukekawa, Tuakau, Onewhero and Te Kohanga offer uniquely fertile volcanic soils and a climate that enables year round production, particularly of fresh leafy green vegetables. This cannot be achieved in other areas of New Zealand due to unsuitable climates.
Maintaining a healthy and nutritious food supply is something generations of growers have done in this area and a shortage of suitable growing land will not only affect access to fresh, locally grown vegetables, it will also have an economic impact on communities. The vegetable industry is a major employer, with horticulture across New Zealand employing around 60,000 people.
Some of the long-standing family business in the area include Sutherland Produce which was founded by father and son Donald and John Sutherland, with John’s daughters Kylie, Laura and Sarah now active in running things. Jivan Produce co-owner Bharat Jivan is a third generation grower. A. S. Wilcox and Sons is a fourth generation, family owned and operated company. Balle Bros is three generations and still growing. Brendan Balle is one of 12 children, whose father and grandfather ran the business before this generation and the next.

Young Horticulturalist of the Year Andrew Hutchinson checks out the perlas potatoes at AS Wilcox & Sons.

Third generation grower Bharat Jivan, co-owner of Jivan Produce, digs out some new potatoes.

Brendan Balle, from Balle Bros, is part of a large family business started by his grandfather when he returned from four years of service in World War I.

Kylie Faulkner, whose father John Sutherland founded the family business with his father, and Stuart Davis check out the field-grown fancy lettuce, one of the new crops for Sutherland Produce.