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Branching Out’s growing trials across Taranaki gain momentum

Te Puna Umanga Venture Taranaki, the regional development agency for Taranaki, has announced significant progress in its Branching Out project. Six botanical trial sites, each growing a combination of medicinal plant and gin botanical crops, now have plants in the ground marking another milestone and a step forward in this long-term strategic project for Taranaki.

In March, the regional development agency made a call out to landowners to participate in the growing trials and received significant interest spanning the region’s three districts.

Branching Out Project Manager Michelle Bauer says, “We’re thrilled to get started with growing botanicals at trial sites across South Taranaki, Stratford, New Plymouth, and North Taranaki, and to be working with committed landowners of whānau, horticulturalists, and dairy farmers, some of whom are organic.”

Branching Out aims to support the diversification of food and fibre value chains to increase resilience, create value farming businesses, develop new related enterprises, create new jobs, and attract fresh revenue and investment to Taranaki.

Pihama organic dairy farmer Janet Fleming is one of the botanical trialists and says, “We have been dairy farming organically since 2004 and are currently in our sixth season of milking once a day. Organic and milking once a day are my non-negotiables for dairy farming, both considered to be outside of mainstream land use and practice, so we have diversified within the dairy industry up until now, and we’re excited about branching into complementary land use with these trials”.

“My vision has always been ‘to be proud of what we produce’, knowing the goodness of the milk and meat produced on our land. Getting involved with the botanicals growing trials aligns with our vision and provides an opportunity to test our knowledge, assess soil capacity, and embrace stepping outside of what we do well already, and continue our learning journey.”

Additionally, Rawiri McClutchie, a North Taranaki landowner, explains his reasons for being involved in the trials, “We as a whānau are looking for ways we can farm our land ourselves and ways to make it financially viable for generations to come. Grazing to the neighbour is not an ideal long-term solution for us.

We have been looking at different avenues that may be suited to a property of our size and what benefits there might be. Ideally, we want to be commercially viable and a business that will provide employment for our whānau.

“Our lawyer first put us onto Venture Taranaki, and it sounded like it was exactly what we were looking for. We think it’s an industry that has real potential for massive growth and for it to be sustainable. To me, it makes sense to grow these botanicals locally if the land and conditions are suitable. We are also exploring opportunities to grow Māori medicinal plants. It is really exciting times for us, and we can’t wait for it to progress and grow,” says McClutchie.

The botanical growing sites follow the sustainable crop rotation trials that began in July this year in North and South Taranaki, with the planting of garlic and faba beans. Garlic trials are also being held at eight Taranaki secondary schools.

The botanical crop selection includes angelica (gin botanicals), ashwagandha (medicinal plants), liquorice (gin botanicals) and Calendula officinalis (medicinal plants).

Echinacea was originally another crop on the table to be planted. However, Venture Taranaki has relied on market intelligence shared by industry experts to adapt the trials to changing market demands.

“We’ve responded to insights from the medicinal plant industry and have made the strategic decision to embark on a trial featuring Calendula officinalis, a crop initially shortlisted during the first phase of the project and verified by further market research. This shift not only aligns with industry data but also equips the trialists with valuable experience in growing, harvesting, and processing aerial parts crops, and broadening their expertise beyond root crops such as angelica, ashwagandha, and liquorice,” explains Bauer.

The sowing and planting of other trials including hemp for fibre production and the remaining rotational crops of kumara, sorghum and sweetcorn, will be completed by the end of November. In the new year, there will be public open days at growing trial sites for anyone interested in learning more. Follow the Venture Taranaki social channels for date announcements or email BranchingOut@venture.org.nz to register your interest.

 

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