A farm and forestry worker most of his life, Bill always enjoyed working with machinery. Being mechanically minded, he immediately started thinking about how to use machinery to cut down Mānuka during his years as a scrub clearer. Today his dream has finally become a reality, although instead of clearing Mānuka for forestry he is now trimming the plants for processing into Mānuka oil.
Although fine-tuned and adjusted to the specific needs of the Mānuka tree and oil processing business, Bill is proud to see his original idea for a mechanical harvester finally become a reality. Working in partnership with New Zealand Mānuka Group, it was a pure coincidence that Bill walked into the office looking for a job when he mentioned is backyard project.
Bill McClutchie, plantation, harvest and development manager at New Zealand Mānuka Resources, part of the New Zealand Mānuka Group, explains his fateful meeting with company founder and managing director, Phil Caskey. “Phil had just taken over the business when I walked in the door, and he was looking for someone to do mechanical harvesting.”
“I said, ‘Well you don’t have to look any further then, I’m your man!”
Hand harvesting 300kg per day of Mānuka brush, Phil was understandably sceptical of Bill’s claim that his home-built mechanical harvester could cut up to two tonne per day. A month later, after numerous trials and further development on the machine, they soon surpassed all expectations and were cutting five tonne of brush in a day.
“Phil’s got a good way of putting things,” Bill explains. “He inspires you to do things and he lets you do them. When I come up with an idea, he always listens and generally supports the things I come up with.”
The development of Bill’s mechanical harvester has been so successful that NZ Mānuka Resources has already invested in a second harvester which is currently being built, and expected to be operational in the New Year. This means more people will need to be employed and trained to not only drive the machines but also process the brush and all other inputs of the business from the Mānuka plantation to the final oil produced.
“We’re a true local industry, so everyone working for us will be local,” confirms Bill. “It’s a huge investment what we’re doing but Phil has always been very clear about ensuring all work goes to the local people, and that the local community is supported.”