Stu Jones manages a little over 10 hectares of Royal Gala in Hastings, along with a 16-hectare block of grapes, for his boss, Colin Campbell. He’s been a grower for around 25 years and seen a lot of changes in the industry – increasing compliance requirements, regulation of chemical inputs, labour supply issues and resistance problems to name just a few.
But one thing hasn’t changed. “Proactive is far better than being reactive,” says Stu. “And you want to get it right first time. The last thing you want to do is go to your boss and tell him you’ve stuffed the crop and there’s a million bucks down the drain. Or walk into home and tell your wife that the pack house has rung and said we’re not getting any money for the crop. You’ve already carried the cost of labour and all the costs leading up to cropping.”
For Stu, avoiding those outcomes is about avoiding risk. “You don’t get many opportunities to get it right and you don’t want to get it wrong in the process,” he continues. “If you use a cheaper product, I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot. There’s too much risk.”
That’s why Stu only uses products he has complete confidence in and that he knows have been trialled locally, even if the manufacturer has conducted their own. “I stick with the tried and true,” he insists. “If my rep turns up here and says I’ve got a new product from BASF for black spot, I’d say ‘That’s sweet’. But if he comes in and says it’s from someone I’ve never heard of I’d say ‘Who’s that? No I’ll stick with what I know thank you’.”
While chemicals are only around 10% of Stu’s costs, it’s important to get it right. So Stu values the relationship he has with his spray rep and the knowledge they can tap into at BASF. “I can ask a question and if they don’t have the answer they can get the answer from the BASF representative in the district. So we can get info pretty quickly if we have an unusual issue.”
Having confidence in your advisers and product is a non-negotiable for Stu. “Colin relies on me to get it right. If it goes really wrong, I should be fired.”