Brief history of greenhouse use in New Zealand, and the beginning of plastic covered tunnel greenhouses.
Greenhouses in New Zealand
In New Zealand during the late 70s and early 80s, horticulture developed wide appeal as the markets for fresh produce evolved. A farmer or small block holder could grow vegetables in his hothouse and take them to the auction floor and earn from his labours. As supermarkets began to appear, their fresh produce sections demanded quality produce and so began the practice of supermarket chains purchasing from growers who were under contract to supply them with the fresh produce.
Early Tunnel Greenhouses
Today, Greg Taylor runs Taylor Built, a greenhouse manufacturing plant in an outer suburb of Auckland. In the early 1980s when he was an Air Force air traffic controller, Greg took a cue from his father-in-law who was an orchardist and decided he too wanted to get into horticulture. A fellow air traffic controller, Kevin Harford was based in the South Island and had designed an early tunnel house using a tractor with a jig to bend the steel pipe frames. The pair realised they had something potentially salable and decided to try making the tunnel greenhouses at a commercial level.
Since Kevin was based in the South Island and Greg, in the North; they divided their respective territories at the same line the Air Force used at Taupo.
Greenhouse Plastic Films
Greg says, “Horticulture was really popular in the eighties and everyone wanted to grow food as a way to supplement their income. We found ourselves supplying 1000 sq.ft, tunnel greenhouses to people on 10 acre blocks. The plastic films were only supposed to be good for three years but many of them lasted more than triple that. We developed working relationships with the Israelis who were acknowledged experts in the fields of horticulture and had done a great deal of research with plastic films. The Israelis had developed coloured films which specifically excluded particular frequencies of light. They taught us a great deal about plastic technology.”
“I remember building our first 4000 sq.m greenhouse for a contract grower to Woolworths. That was in 1995 and we thought it was absolutely huge. As it turned out, it was only the beginning of really large greenhouses because we later built greenhouses covering 20,000 sq.m. for other contract growers. Virtually anyone who wasn’t growing over at least 4,000 sq.m ceased to produce because there was no longer a market for their goods. What it meant was that corporates controlled the horticultural industry from the late 80s.
Markets for Fresh Produce
“Today though, things have moved through a full revolution with the arrival of Farmer’s Markets providing a point of sale for smaller amounts of fresh produce. The small block holder can easily grow a big enough crop in a reasonably sized greenhouse to produce extra income through niche markets while delighting the public who can buy their green goods much fresher and often, organically grown. Some of these small growers supply direct to restaurants.”
Greenhouses are again becoming very popular for lifestyle block owners and many are choosing to grow produce which the supermarket chains simply won’t supply, such as broad beans, or heritage vegetables. Greg builds greenhouses these days more often for orchid growers and the value of light permeable roofs is resulting in other uses for greenhouse style buildings such as animal shelters.
Source: Theresa Sjoquist interview with Greg Taylor