Fruit tree nurserymen and IP managers

Business Central HORTICULTURE » McGrath Nurseries
By Sue Russell

AndyMcGrathAndy McGrath, founder and managing director of Cambridge based McGrath Nurseries. The company grows 40 per cent of New Zealand’s apple trees and
95% of cherry trees.

On the outskirts of Cambridge, McGrath Nurseries Ltd is home to literally hundreds of thousands of young fruit trees, each one the physical expression of what business founder Andy McGrath describes as his core business; creating and managing the technology bridge that links tree and fruit breeding science with consumers here and worldwide.
When Business North visited Andy and before receiving the guided tour of the nursery, to gain a sense of the scope of the tree cultivation operation, Andy McGrath began by articulating just what the business was all about
“This business has two distinct aspects to it. We are specialists in growing deciduous fruit tree varieties of apple, pear, peach, nectarine, apricot, plum and cherry trees and we’ve been doing this for nearly four decades now.
“We are continually assessing our production systems with a view to resetting the bar on the quality of the trees we grow and the fruit those trees ultimately produce. The other world of our business is about intellectual property management systems that govern the ownership and production of fruit varieties, from importation, testing and development, commercialisation and managing royalty collection and payment systems,” says Andy.
McGrath Nurseries Ltd is responsible for growing upward of 40 per cent of New Zealand’s apple trees, a massive 95% of cherry trees and 75% of apricots.
“At a business level about 90% of what we grow requires licenses of the intellectual property and we have developed the systems and established the relationships with growers, packers and marketers here and overseas to achieve this.”
Over 20 years ago McGrath Nurseries Ltd started importing superior rootstocks from Cornell University in the United States. These rootstocks are resistant to a number of common diseases which enable, this resistance allows the tree to have more energy available for growing instead of fighting disease.
They are also a more productive rootstock, producing more fruit per tree than other common apple rootstocks such as M9.
Evolving a new apple from breeding through to large-scale production takes time and a long-term view.
“We are talking about a 15 year lead-in time so decisions we make today play out over a long period of time and the outcomes are influenced by factors in the future beyond our control.”
McGrath Nurseries Ltd manages two varieties of apples, KORU ® Plumac c.v. globally and Honeycrisp in New Zealand.
KORU ® Plumac c.v. has an incredibly crunchy texture and an exceptional flavour that is complex, aromatic and honey-like. It has received outstanding consumer test results overseas and is under controlled production, available only from McGrath Nurseries Ltd.
“We hold the world rights to production and marketing of this apple and have managed its production through development to commercialisation.” Honeycrisp is new to New Zealand and derives from a high-grade U.S. and Europe originating apple.
“It’s an outstanding performer, yielding significant grower returns up to three times the retail price of other varieties. I can’t over-state the marketing potential for growers of this apple. It has an outstanding flavour and ‘explosive’ crispness,” says Andy.
Andy describes the people he works alongside as core of the business, including the nursery tree ‘care-team’ who travel from Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands under the Recognised Seasonal Employer programme. 
“Growing and caring for trees that begin their life a matter of centimetres above the soil is hard work and those we employ through our RSE status are excellent staff.”
A visit to the McGrath Nurseries Ltd website offers the viewer a comprehensive body of information and a snap-shot describing how, from relatively humble beginnings some 38 years ago, the operation has grown into one of New Zealand’s largest and most successful fruit tree nursery and IP management entities.
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