Business North March 2021

64 | Hume’s at the forefront of innovation T T Richard Loader Mark Hume: “We’re are slowly changing the way we operate to being more mechanised.” HORTICULTURE Hume Pack-N-Cool F rom its first year’s production of 73,000 trays of Kiwifruit to its current produc- tion of 5 million trays, innovative Katikati Kiwifruit company Hume Pack-N-Cool has constantly embraced technology and the emerging talents within its team. Originally dairy farmers, the Hume fam- ily saw the opportunities offered through Kiwifruit, planting their first vines in 1978, en- visioning their own packhouse and coolstore facility, which came to fruition in 1984. Packing for other growers as well, the family believed growers needed the opportunity to be part of the company and introduced grower-shareholders into the business. Today, about 60% of the growers supplying fruit to Hume are shareholders. “We’re an innovative company,” says Mark Hume, Executive Director. “We were the first company to form grower pools where all growers work together to maximise returns and now the whole industry does that. We also visited California with See- ka investigating optics used to grade fruit. We were one of the first packhouses to introduce that technology, reducing the labour require- ment through harvest.” With the industry poised to double volume Mark says the whole industry has to invest significantly in capital expenditure. Hume Pack-N-Cool’s packhouse currently has a capacity of 8 million trays, which the company is on target to meet within the next two years. Its coolstore facilities will be contin- ually expanded to meet that demand. At the heart of the industry’s exponential growth is an unquenchable international mar- ket impassioned with New Zealand’s unique premier Sun Gold product. “We’re going like heck to deliver but New Zealand is pretty well starved of Gold fruit and much of our second-class fruit is exported as well.” Frustrated with the challenges in finding la- bour and a Government which he believes will increase labour rates, Mark says automation and robotics will play an increasingly impor- tant part in the packhouse and coolstore. “Others in the industry are doing that as well, but as a percentage of our supply we’re probably ahead of the industry. “We’re are slowly changing the way we op- erate to being more mechanised. We still need people —they’re vital—but not only can we not get them, the cost is going to be prohibi- tive for us as an industry.” Mark says Covid was a real test for Hume Pack-N-Cool, as well as the wider industry, particularly at packing time. “We were an essential industry that relied on casual labour and we were trying to get people to work while Government was paying people to stay at home. “At peak season we employ between 500 – 600 staff and during Covid we lost 40% of our staff. How we got through the season I just don’t know but we got through it and at the end everyone was ecstatic. “But I never want to go through that again, it was so stressful.” Having recently brought in a new GM to run the company as well a new GM Postharvest to run the packhouse, Mark says Hume Pack-N- Cool is blessed with a young and very talented team coming through. “I’ll be concentrating more on mentoring and overseeing future developments, leaving the new young breed to do the day-to-day running of the company. “I’m really looking forward to the future. We have a wonderful crew of young manag- ers and they will drive the company into the future.” “We were the first company to form grower pools where all growers work together to maximise returns and now the whole industry does that.”