When half-a-century had ticked over since Robert Inglis first started growing hops, he’d not long celebrated one of his own significant birthdays - but he’d barely given change a thought, let alone the idea of selling Northwood Hop Farm.
So, when the government-owned Super Fund proposed adding the 85-hectare property to its horticultural investment portfolio, Robert says he had no intention of turning his back on the industry.
Just as passionate about growing hops as he was as a teenager, Robert has readily taken time away from his aviation business, Originair in Nelson, to advise or assist as required with the new owners.
Despite the sale in July 2019, he continues to regularly drive to Northwood to discuss all-things-hops with the staff, walk the hop rows – and he has even worked the night drying shift, giving the regular staff member at least one night off during harvest.
“The NZ Super Fund knows I am very happy to stay around and help with marketing hops if required.”
Surely the most quintessential ‘win-win’ sale and purchase transaction possible, the NZ Super Fund gained ownership of a well-managed, well-set up horticultural business, complete with Northwood’s experienced and knowledgeable staff, while the entire Northwood team got to keep their jobs.
The only visible difference that the Inglis family no longer owns Northwood is new signage at the front gate – and Farm Manager, Jason Johnson’s business card now describes him as the NZ Super Fund’s Horticultural Operations Manager.
“Investment in the hop industry by the NZ Super Fund brings a lot of confidence in the stability of NZ Hops Limited,” says Robert. “Everyone can see a major shareholder is looking at the next 100 years, rather than just the immediate future.”
The sale also included some family treasures collected over two generations of hop farming. There’s a vintage Farmall Cub tractor, which features in a large picture on display in Nelson’s Speights Ale House and a shiny, dark green and black Ford Model AA truck is still in commission around the farm. Robert remembers loading it with bags of hops during harvests, to take hops from the paddocks to the kilns.
The sale of the farm also means the end of Robert’s grape-growing venture. Planted in 1993, the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris grapes became the fruit of Northwood Wines in 2007, which have very successfully sold in Auckland, Christchurch and around the country. The entire vineyard has now been removed to make way for more hop gardens.
“The Company has grown kiwifruit and apples over the years - and even green tea, as there was a tea plantation already established on one of the blocks of land purchased,” says Robert. “The fun is in ‘doing it’ - trying different projects and getting them up and running. Once something has matured, it can become a bit like being the train on the track and can become less interesting”.
But the ever-changing hop industry never became a bore, although there were many challenging seasons when hop gardens all over the district were threatened by droughts, wild storms and downturns in the market.
Northwood Hop Co. Ltd was formed in 1965 and in 1988 Robert made the Company’s first major investment in new freehold farmland when he bought the first of three properties which had been separated off for the original owner’s sons. He gradually bought all three blocks and joined them back together and leased a further adjoining block.
Nowadays, Northwood produces 15 varieties of hops, including five hectares of the recently launched ‘Nectaron,’ created by Plant and Food scientist Ron Beatson. The farm was involved in the trials of many other varietals, including Waimea, Kohatu and Wai-iti.
Jason Johnson says the Northwood team are proud of the property’s long history.
“Some of the staff have worked here for more than 20 years,” he says. “Although we are under new ownership, it doesn’t feel as though we’re a new business. We’re simply improving on the 53 years of work that’s been put into this property.
“We’re also ensuring we’re progressive and doing what’s needed to reduce our carbon footprint. We’re focused on producing the best hops, while having the least impact possible on the environment.
“Sustainability is extremely important at Northwood, but our people are extremely important to us, too. Northwood, like all NZSF properties, has a ‘zero harm’ goal.”
Northwood is the first hop farm the New Zealand Super Fund has purchased. It has since bought Oast House Hop Farm in nearby Moutere Valley, finalising the deal in September this year.
- written by Victoria Clark 2020