Hopes and Markhams

A fruitful association for more than half a century

  • Hopes and Markhams

    Dan Druzianic, Markhams Hawkes Bay director (left), enjoying the fruits of labour of long-time horticulturists Mercer (centre) and Chris Hope.

For Mercer Hope, orcharding has its roots planted firmly in his family history.  Mercer’s father, Jim was a pioneering orchardist in Hawke’s Bay and following in his footsteps Mercer and his five brothers traded as Hope Bros, growing and selling fruit to the local market.

In 1959, Mercer and wife Rosemary bought their own property in Twyford, on the outskirts of Hastings.  Originally a WWII returned soldiers’ rehabilitation block, the property only housed a small shed that made packing a real challenge.  A year later Mercer built a “proper” packhouse on the property that is still in use today, and business then, he says, was a simple affair.

“We didn’t have too many challenges in the early days,” says Mercer.  “Things went along sweetly – I would pick fruit in the morning and Rosemary and I would pack in the afternoon.  We’d load up our truck and deliver the fruit in time for the 4pm train to market.”

Mercer confesses that orcharding became the “love of his life” and always felt it was more than just a job.

“Orcharding can be challenging, especially as you are exposed to the vagaries of Mother Nature.  Things can be going really well and then a frost or hail hits and can be disastrous.  But orcharding also provides leisure time around work, which for me meant getting out on the golf course every opportunity I could.  Although I don’t play anymore, I do enjoy going to the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association golf day each year.”

One of his fondest memories was a fruiting peach tree Mercer discovered in a hedge.  “The fruit was extremely good and so I had a nurseryman check it out and he suggested propagating it as our own variety.  Our very first consignment to Auckland sold out immediately,” he says.

The history of Mercer Hope’s business is shared and reflected in the history of Markhams Hawke’s Bay.

For more than half a century, the Hopes have been clients of the firm – originally known as Denton and Denton, a Hastings accountancy firm established by Lawrence Denton in 1912.  Mercer’s father was a client of Lawrence’s and Mercer followed suit.

“Although I was only 28 when I went into business on my own account, I remember Mr Denton well.  Once when I went to see him after my books were done, he was sitting at his desk with a rug over his knees and a one bar electric heater on the floor.  It must have been cold in those concrete rooms.  He was always full of praise for the work and effort my wife and I put into the orchard.  He was a nice man and the only time we had cross words was when he told me I had some income tax to pay,” Mercer laughs.

After Lawrence Denton retired, his son Owen became not only Mercer’s accountant, but a Trustee of the orcharding business until his retirement in 1977.  Mercer’s recollection of Owen was one of a man who was a “hard shot”.  “Owen was like his father,” says Mercer.  “Always pushing me to expand the business.

He was a very good accountant and a good friend.  Even after he retired, every year in mid-January he would come out to the packhouse to see how the season was treating us and how business was going – he was very caring.  I was still pretty young at that time and Owen was incredibly helpful.”

In 1983, Mercer’s son Chris joined him on leaving Lindisfarne College, and the business became MB & CL Hope Partnership, changing focus from exporting to wholly domestic, supplying the local market with fruit through FreshMax, one of the largest fresh produce marketing and distribution operations in Australasia.

The past 20 years has seen the Hope business experience significant expansion and modernisation including the building of a new coolstore for controlled atmosphere storage and acquisition of land.  As neighbouring orchardists retired or left their properties, Chris and his father would buy the land, and today the Hope’s operation is spread over more than 48 hectares (120 acres) of leased and owned land.

Wind machines and overhead sprinklers were introduced in later years to assist in fighting frosts and provided a more environmentally friendly alternative to the smoke pots used in Mercer’s earlier days on the orchard.

“It’s no longer legal to use smoke pots as we used to,” Mercer explains.  “With wind machines on the property we can now lay in bed on frosty nights and pull the blankets up to our ears instead of being out in the cold lighting pots.  The old pots used to create a smoky haze over the Heretaunga Plains.  My brother in Haumoana phoned me one morning to tell me his flock of sheep, previously white, had now turned black from the soot of the pots around Hawke’s Bay!”

With Chris in the business, the Hope Partnership’s relationship with Markhams continued, this time with Ernie Williams.

“Ernie was a lot younger and had plenty of push.  We were with Ernie for quite some time and he kept us on our toes.  After Ernie left in 1998, we were put onto another good man by the name of Dan Druzianic with whom we have been to this day,” says Mercer.

Dan joined the firm (by then named Denton Donovan) in 1996 and became a partner in 2000.  In 2004 Denton Donovan joined the Markhams national network of independent chartered accountancy firms.

For Mercer and Chris, Markhams is, and has always been, more than an accountancy firm.   The Hopes view Markhams as partners in their business, providing not only sound financial services but advice and mentoring, valuing the firm’s thoughts, experience and judgment.

And just as Owen Denton was a Trustee of Mercer’s business in the early days, the tradition continues, with Markhams Trustee company acting for the Hope family trust.

Although Chris now runs the business, Mercer, in his 80s, still can be found working on the orchard part time, adhering to his philosophy of “keeping busy or you’ll stop.”  As for the future of the orcharding business, Mercer isn’t sure but he’ll give it some thought next time he’s on the tractor mowing one of the orchards.

Published Autumn 2012.

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