Investing with an innovator: how innovation helps Southern Cross Horticulture stay ahead

Investing with an innovator: how innovation helps Southern Cross Horticulture stay ahead

It seems like everyone's an innovator these days. Or so they say. “Innovation” has become a buzzword, overused almost as much as “disruption”. Just Google innovation images and you’ll be deluged with lightbulbs, a vivid illustration of just how cliched the term has become in the wrong hands. So when someone claims to be innovative, it's a good idea to have a look at their track record and see how it stacks up. We don’t like buzzwords, but we’re happy to stand up to a bit of scrutiny.


Innovation is how we stay ahead and stay in control, especially in the tough times.

  • You might say innovation’s in our blood. We’ve been at the leading edge of a number of industry firsts over the years. For example, we were early adopters of the Gold variety in the 1990s, after our Founder and Director, Chris Dunstan, tasted the new variety and announced,“This is going to be our future!” And when it became available, we quickly adopted the SunGold variety that’s now powering worldwide demand.
  • Innovation helps us meet the world's growing appetite for kiwifruit. We’ve developed techniques that allow us to increase production quickly to meet demand, like going from planting to first harvest in as little as 21 months, which is significantly faster than the industry average. For example, we recently created a “Supercharger”plant which comes straight from the nursery with established leaders for accelerated growth. Using this we hope to double the average size of first crops in our 21 month production model.
  • Innovation also helps us stay in control thanks to our unique ‘end-to-end’ business model covering the entire lifespan of a kiwifruit orchard. This industry-leading approach means we carry out and oversee every stage of land selection, planning and consenting, development, establishment, and management.
  • Innovation helps us stay ahead of disease. When thePSA crisis hit the industry 10 years ago, we were able to fight our way out of it with grit and new techniques like putting our juvenile plants in greenhouses for added protection, and placing canopies across entire orchards to prevent fruit rub and disease spread.

Innovation is tied into our value of excellence and our drive to be “better today than we were yesterday”. Andrew Dunstan, CEO of Southern Cross Horticulture, explains that this spreads a mindset of “organic innovation” through the whole organisation. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to improve. For example, Chris Dunstan, saw the way other agriculture sectors were employing soil preparation techniques before planting and asked, “why wouldn’t that work for us?” Many trials and iterations later, it became part of the new way we do things. Combined with focused roles, specialist teams, and collaborative focus groups with responsibilities for issues like sustainability, new cultivar refinement, and better use of chemicals, this mindset is far more powerful than any buzzword ever could be.


We’re also grateful to be part of an industry that's committed to innovation, with Zespri taking the lead. Like us, Zespri has a history of using creativity to beat PSA, which also helped the entire industry recover. It says that Hort16a Gold kiwifruit “were particularly susceptible to the Psa bacteria and their vines were badly affected. But because Zespri never stopped our commitment to innovation, we already had a new gold-variety kiwifruit in the natural breeding program, a variety that had been in development for over 10 years.” That new variety was SunGold, the present-day success story. The Zespri Board has a dedicated innovation sub-committee that carries on this commitment to innovation and, most recently, Zespri and Plant and Food Research have just opened a new Kiwifruit Breeding Centre “to drive greater innovation within kiwifruit breeding”. Commitments like these strengthen everyone’s capacity to innovate and grow.


Zespri RubyRed is a great example of our commitment to innovation coming together with the industry’s commitment in a new and exciting way. RubyRed is a new kiwifruit variety that’s been developed over 20 years, and it’s expected to attract new consumers in premium markets. It was released for commercial plantings in 2020 after extensive trials, which SCH was part of. Now that we are growing it in our latest developments, we’ll be putting those learnings to good use. We harvested our first crop 2 years ago, and we’re enthusiastic about figuring out what makes this variety tick.


If you started this article feeling skeptical about yet another company claiming to be innovative, we don’t blame you. In fact, we know just how you feel. But we look back at our history of change and improvement with gratitude, and we look to the future with a determination to carry on getting better in every way we can. To put another way, we don't like to talk about innovation. We just get on and do it.

Join us for a webinar

Hear directly from the team behind our latest investment orchard, Hereford Park. Join Andrew Dunstan, CEO of Southern CrossHorticulture, and David Hay, principal of Antipodes Capital, at one of our free webinars on 25 November and 3 December 2021. They’ll explain the ins-and-outs of kiwifruit investing, why they invest their own money in orchard developments, and the opportunity at Hereford Park, and they’ll answer all your questions.

Watch the webinar
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