The first time Andrew Fry planted his own hop gardens, his lifelong passion for “growing things” grew as rapidly as the healthiest of hop bines, wending their way skyward at astonishing speed.
“I just really like growing things. I always have,” he says. “But there’s something about hops. They give you instant gratification for all your fertilising and irrigating efforts.
“I like walking through the gardens and seeing how quickly they’ve changed, even in just one day.”
Andrew will coyly admit to having a little word with the hops from time to time.
“Yeah, I do talk to them a bit, but it’s mostly just talking out loud about how amazing their growth is. They’re pretty impressive.”
Long Gully Hops was a deer farm when Andrew’s father, Kevin Fry, purchased it in 2004. It had previously been a dairy farm and was once covered with raspberry gardens.
Removing all the internal fencing which once kept in livestock, Andrew and Kevin established lush swathes of lucerne, maize and red clover crops for seed pastures and animal feed.
Apart from milking cows for a couple of years when he first left high school, Andrew has always worked the land in one way or another alongside his father.
“We have a strong father and son bond,” says Kevin. “When Andrew was 22 months old, my wife Barbara passed away. She had breast cancer which was too advanced to cure.
“For a while, I employed childcare for Andrew and my three daughters who were seven, 13 and 14, but after a couple of years that just didn’t feel right. I became a fulltime parent and one of the rare fathers who could turn up to sports days and swimming competitions during the school day.”
In those days, Kevin, who is now 73, was farming tobacco on his Pangatotara property in the Motueka Valley and managing his own father’s farm, nearby. Nowadays, both properties produce maize crops.
When the tobacco industry folded in the early 1990s, Kevin semi-retired, but boredom soon crept in. He bought a sheep farm in Tapawera - right next door to Hinetai Hops.
“I’ve helped Dad on the farm since I was little boy and I’ve been driving tractors for as long as I can remember,” Andrew says. “Living beside a hop farm piqued my interest and I often worked the nightshift there, driving the tractor with the hop-picker on it.”
His interest in hops never waned, so when he was looking for a new challenge within the farming business he shares with his Dad, he chose hops.
Converting lucerne paddocks into 10.6 hectares of hop gardens, Long Gully Hops has seen two harvests, so far. Andrew says he took all the advice and lessons he could get from several hop farmers whose families have been growing hops in this perfect climate for generations, particularly Colin Oldham.
“We’re not big enough to justify having our own processing plant, so we cut down the bines and take them to the picking machine and kilns at (Kerry) Oldham Hops in Tapawera,” Andrew says.
While the various crops on all three farms get on with growing taller and plumper every season, Andrew runs his agricultural development business – as always, working alongside his Dad.
Ground preparation for horticulture, particularly hops, is highly sought-after across the district. Fry Contracting has a fleet of five high-spec tractors, all capable of self-steering, but Andrew still spends “many, many hours” in a tractor seat, preparing other farmers’ land for planting.
“I’ve been self-employed since I was 19, when I set up my own crop spraying business, but Dad was doing the same sort of work and we soon realised we were doing work for the same customers and sending them separate invoices. We decided to join forces.”
The pair also share an interest in tractors, sourcing collectable models from all over the country. Some of the tractors date as far back as the 1930s and came from the region’s oldest hop farms. Spare time is rare for the father and son team, but restoring the old workhorses is a much-loved, shared project.
But, come hop harvest time, Andrew is more likely to be found watching his lovingly grown hops being processed at Oldham Hops.
“I juggle my time, so I can be there with the hops,” he says. “That’s when I do a lot of watching and learning.”
Victoria Clark - 2021