Lynda Gray

The growing of carrot seed is proving to be a fuss-free, niche diversification for a handful of Central Otago farmers.

The nine, a mix of sheep and beef farmers and dairy grazers, grow the seed in a mostly yearly lease arrangement with Midlands Seeds. Farmers are paid $2500/ha for the lease and earn premiums for higher-than-average-yielding crops.

The Central Otago sites grow a couple of varieties that don’t perform well on the large-scale Canterbury cropping farms where most of the 30-plus cultivars are grown. Midlands had directly approached the farmers, although there had been word-of-mouth approaches from a few. The grower list has increased from five last season to nine this season and covers an area of about 200 hectares.

Small pockets of carrot seed have been grown in the region in the past, but the opportunity to increase the block sizes, ideally 10ha or more, has come with the development of more-reliable spray irrigation.

Climate modelling has identified the ideal growing zone to be in the Tarras and Wanaka area and lower-lying country close to the Clutha river where there’s less likelihood of frost.

There’s a risk factor in growing carrot seed but the arrangement is generally working well for the farmers, Andrew Doyle, Midland Seeds representative says.

It’s up to the farmer to get the paddock seed-bed ready for sowing in the first half of February. Under the lease arrangement Midlands takes care of sowing, growing and harvesting.