80 years of Alex McDonald Ltd, powered by potatoes.

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By Kerry Hughes.

Alex McDonald Ltd (Almac) was established in 1941 and celebrates 80 years this year.

Although always trading in potatoes it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Alex’s sons Colin and Alistair established the Pathogen Tested (PT) Seed Potato Scheme in a joint venture with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) and Pyper Produce.

Colin McDonald took full ownership of the company upon Alistair’s early retirement and saw the seed scheme quickly develop and grow. The arrival of the smooth white skinned variety Nadine coincided with the development of washing potatoes for retail sales. This saw Nadine dominate the washed market over the next few decades.

Prior to Colin’s retirement he sold the business to Kerry and Antoinette Hughes. Kerry has worked for the business for 27 years now. Colin celebrated his 90th birthday in June of this year and now resides in Wanaka close to several family members.

Alex McDonald Ltd represent 8 different European Seed Breeders from Germany, Holland, and the UK. This gives access to the latest varieties and technologies on offer.  Due to biosecurity regulations, raw potatoes cannot be imported into NZ, instead they are brought in as micro plantlets. They are imported from a single laboratory in Scotland, and when they arrive, already quarantine cleared, they are developed into mini tubers through the PT scheme and glass house facility. The mini tubers are field multiplied by Almac as growers, then passed on to contract seed growers throughout Canterbury for further multiplication, and finally to the end user growers throughout NZ.

After 45 years of having the PT Seed Scheme at The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research (PFR), Lincoln, the joint venture has run its course and it’s time to move on. Almac have now relocated to a brand-new glass house facility at the Innovation Park in Templeton. The purpose-built facility imported from Holland, will give the business more capacity to produce more mini tubers, and enable seed production at an earlier generation. Roading access delays have meant the intended opening for the glass house has not been possible yet.

Another milestone in the company’s history this year is the retirement of our long serving glass house manager, James Robertson. James was based at PFR Lincoln, for the entire 37 years he worked for Almac. He was mainly responsible for growing the tissue culture plantlets into mini tubers, which were then planted by the field crew as generation zero. One year he had 112 different lines in production, and he played an extremely vital role in the seed production pipeline. 

Almac have developed solid relationships with seed growers and buyers which have supported the long-lasting business of 80 years. The community includes 2nd generation clients and in some instances 3rd generation family members. Almac would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the industry for their continued support.