Sat, Feb 19, 2022 9:41 AM

Academy honour for Marlborough forester


Paula Hulburt

When pioneering Marlborough forester Andrew Wiltshire first began growing pine trees, he had no idea his work would one day take him to Sweden.

Pinoli Ltd is a name well known to many Marlburians, a name that proudly accompanies every bag, a testament to the knowledge and foresight of its owners.

Now, more than 17,000km away in the breath-taking cold of a Swedish winter, co-owner Andrew and wife Barb, are meant to be celebrating his induction into The Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry.

While COVID-19 has just delayed a celebratory dinner to be graced by the King of Sweden Carl XVI, Andy, as he prefers to be called, is nonetheless excited about the honour.

He is only the second Kiwi to have been commended in this manner.

“It’s probably a rather obscure organization for many in NZ but for me personally, I consider it a real honour to be nominated and inducted.

The Pinoli pine plantations in Marlborough: Photo: Supplied.

“I like the mission of the Academy as it places emphasis on both the advancement of science and research as well as practical experience.

“In a highly polarized world, that seems like an important combination to me…”

One of just 25 international inductees to the Academy, the former forester considers the honour a fitting one. There are, he explains, great affinities between the Swedish forestry sector and his own motivations and beliefs.

But it is the team back in Marlborough that Andy credits with getting the company where it is today from smaller beginnings back when it began in 1997.

“I’m most proud of our team. Our general manager, Lee Paterson and Sales Manager Zoe Thompson have been with us from the start nearly 25 years ago, and our business manager, Stu Harris and two newest team members Josh Patterson and Max Law all work together to solve problems and make things happen.

‘Most of all my wife Barb who is my fellow Director and owner of the business and who keeps me from doing anything too crazy!

“Our pine nut plantations are now prized assets, and they are nice to look at and work in, but it's the team of people driving the business that move the enterprise forward every day, every month, every year.

“Their energy, skill, commitment and sense of humour make me very happy and very proud.

Stretching out over 500 hectares, the Mediterranean Stone pine tree plantation makes itself known as its heady scent is carried on the Marlborough breeze.

Its cones are plentiful and pine nuts are not only supplied domestically to many food stores within NZ, but additional kernels also go to Australia and to Europe.

As demand increases, new plantations are being developed, Andy says. While somewhat reluctant to admit it, the global pandemic has been a boost for the business.

“It's almost embarrassing to say this, but the pandemic has been good for business. Demand for our product seems to rise when people are unable to eat out at restaurants and we assume this is in some way due to seeking out some special ingredients to enhance their meals at home.

“We are still expanding. We have planted more trees almost every year since our start in 1998 and plan to plant more in 2022.

“We’d like to take this from its current scale to a larger industry that is more meaningful in economic terms, regionally and even nationally. Our factory has capacity to process more pine nuts and we think our European Stone Pine forests are a great land use for drier parts of Marlborough and actually for other regions in Canterbury, Otago and Hawkes Bay.”

For Andy, the lure of the seemingly humble pine nut is not difficult to explain. He is happy to enthuse about its many virtues, not least taste.

But it was the challenge of growing a pine nut forest and then producing nuts that first attracted Andy to plant.

“Knowing few others had successfully grown pine nut forests and even fewer had completed the cycle to producing pine nuts just made the challenge of doing it in NZ extra special.

“Pine nuts are such an interesting food source on so many levels. Extremely nutritious, delicious to eat (to most people), something a little special among nuts due to their high price, an ancient food essentially unchanged by domestication since palaeolithic times, from drought tolerant, long-lived and rather beautiful trees.”

Andrew Wiltshire outside the main KSLA headquarters in Stockholm. Photo: Supplied.

Apart from some herbicides to control the grass, no chemicals are used anywhere within the pine forests or factory. Instead, the power of the sun, the wind, clean water and healthy soils are used to their best advantage.

This is a particular source of pride for the owners.

“We have always loved the fact that apart from some herbicides to control the grass when trees are planted, we use no chemicals of any kind on our forests, or in our factory. Just sun, wind, rainfall and healthy soils and clean water and some heat and electricity in the factory.

“The forests do not spread as wildlings, use no irrigation water, and provide shade and shelter for livestock.”

There has always been an environmental consideration in the business, with plans afoot to build on their already enviable green credentials. While the team at Pinoli know what they want to achieve, they are also very clear about what they don’t want to do.

“From its beginnings when we read stories of (a different species of) pine nuts being unsustainably harvested from clear-cut forests in China, to concerns about insect pests in Mediterranean Europe and warfare and deforestation in Afghanistan where yet another species of edible pine nut trees grow…

“We have plans to become a truly circular economy company with net output of renewable energy, net sequestration of carbon (already achieved) and supply of wood, biomass, and of course our prized pine kernels, explains Andy.

The multi-award winning business has certainly found its niche, not just in New Zealand but on the wider world stage.

It is Andy’s international experience in growing several tree species on five continents and developing forests that are also food producing resources which saw him succeed as an Academy applicant.

“A long-time friend and colleague e-mailed to ask if I would accept a nomination back in 2019 and I had little hesitation in confirming I would stand.”

“I was inducted as an International Fellow in January 2021. I am one of 25 international fellows until age 65, but the membership is for life - the limited number of positions is refilled with younger people as existing fellows pass that age.”

Hoping to return to New Zealand later this month, Andy and Barb have plans to return to Sweden later in the year when the eagerly awaited dinner will hopefully take place.

While it was disappointingly postponed, the trip has given both Andy and Barb a chance to discover more about the Swedish forestry industry.

But it is their customers that make it all worth it at the end of the day, Andy says.

“Our customers inspire me to keep building and planning for future growth of the investment. We just featured in a re-run of the Country Calendar episode on our business last weekend, and once again, the feedback from customers has been plentiful - and energizing.

“New Zealanders, and also Australians keep on letting us know how much they appreciate our fresh locally grown kernels, and our retail partners have also been wonderful to work with and incredibly loyal since we began selling pine nuts in 2009.

“I feel very lucky in my career, my businesses and friends and family and we have lots more to do to keeping planting trees and growing environmentally sound investments.”

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