By Gordon Rennie in New Zealand

Allan and Dot Bisset had been heavily involved in strawberry production in Fife when, in 2006, they decided to visit to Dot’s native New Zealand – when fate took a hand.

Dot had been working for the Logan family, near Cupar, and Allan was manager at Allanhill, St Andrews. So the trip to NZ was just meant to be a 'wee adventure'. While there, Allan decided to check out what farms were for sale on 'Trade Me', a popular NZ website.

This led to the purchase of a 4.1 ha vineyard, that included a house and a red barn. Hence the 'Wee Red Barn' brand was born. Only five minutes from Masterton, on State Highway 2, the location was ideal for passing trade.

Today this trade is supplemented by fruit and vegetable vans that travel to good locations in Masterton and nearby towns.

Allan and Dot’s main crop is strawberries in polytunnels, supplemented with cherries, raspberries, peppers, blueberries and figs. But what totally amazed me was the massive yields of strawberries.

Since 2007, the system has been tweaked and adapted so today all berries are grown on tables in Haygrove polytunnels. Allan explained that it would be impossible to attract any harvest labour unless strawberries are grown on tables (trays) to make harvesting easier.

This part of the world has much higher levels of sunlight than Scotland. The extra light allows for an extra row aloft the standard two rows to be grown, the top table does not shade the two tables below. This extra tray instantly increases yield by 50% by area.

With a total plant population of 94,600 strawberry plants per ha and with each plant yielding 1.1 kg, this gives a staggering yield of 104 tonnes per ha. The average selling price is around $8 per kg.

By comparison, strawberries grown on tables and in polytunnels in Scotland may have 60,000 plants per ha with a yield of 0.5kg per plant. Although I understand once polytunnels are heated in Scotland, 90,000 plants per ha can be grown and yields may reach 1kg per plant. The difference in NZ is that the extra sunlight comes free.

At the peak of harvest, strawberries and raspberries overlap, so 35 pickers are required. The NZ government grants work visas to anyone who will be under 31 years of age at the end of the two-year visa. This allows a massive army of backpackers and young people to work legally in NZ.

Allan and Dot have a campsite nearby and have no problem attracting casual labour who are paid on an hourly rate (about £8 per hour ).

They have also expanded and have purchased another 13 ha with a farmhouse on adjacent land. Apart from the fruit crops, there is a free-range egg enterprise, outdoor pigs, and spuds. If that was not enough, I noticed asparagus being grown in boxes.

But the star of the show and the biggest breadwinner are the strawberries. There will be no kiwifruit or avocado grower who will ever come close to producing a gross output like at the Wee Red Barn. Since I am also privy to the cost of growing strawberries at the Wee Red Barn, I am quite sure there will no other 2ha in NZ which are as lucrative and as well deserved .

What made my visit even more special was that Allan's father Eck, who works at Strathvivie Farm, St Andrews, Fife, was out helping Allan. Eck was scampering around putting chains around large oak branches to allow them to be dragged out to be cut up for winter logs.

As an agronomist I often see Eck back in Fife, so it was great to see him here and looking so good. If I ever make it to my 80th year I can only hope I will be half as fit as him.

There is definitely something about the climate out here that not only grows bumper crops but encourages a much healthier outdoors lifestyle. We should all be proud of what Allan and Dot have achieved following their amazing journey from Scotland to NZ.