Good Stuff: Topflite
If you’ve ever road tripped around Oamaru in summer there’s a good chance you have noticed the sunflowers. Rosedale Farm in Weston is an Instagrammer’s delight, the sweeping yellow fields some of the most extensive in the country. It’s more than a pretty picture however. Since the first crop of sunflowers was planted on the family farm in 1974, Topflite has been crafting the seeds into nutritious feed for New Zealand pets and increasingly for wild birds. Topflite is a company built around traceable products, sustainability and community.
The company is still run by the Mitchell and Webster families, whose crops now cover around 1375 hectares around Oamaru. In addition to their famous sunflowers, Topflite grows canary seed, ryegrass, maize, rape, lucerne, barley and hay. It all goes into crafting completely traceable products for birds, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs and mice.
Greg Webster, from the second generation of the Topflite family, is now the General Manager. (that’s him below on the left in his interning days). Greg tells us the Topflite story and how you can get involved in the National Garden Bird Survey starting next week.
Tell us about the Topflite story to date
Topflite evolved out of a farming operation back in the 1970s. My father and his partners were going through a difficult period with droughts and low prices so looked for alternative crops to grow. They started with sunflowers and began supplying bird clubs directly by mail order. Next came canary seed, also in demand from bird clubs and breeders. Over the years that’s flourished to supplying retailers all over the country and an online store.
Currently, our wild bird products are becoming a lot more popular than the traditional aviary birds we were set up to cater for. The wild bird market in the UK and USA is now huge. We’ve formulated New Zealand-grown products to attract and nourish local birdlife. And New Zealanders are really getting on board with it.
Why is sourcing New Zealand grown product so important to you?
It’s all about the quality of the nutrition. Seed grown here doesn’t have to get heat-treated like imported seed does when it comes into the country. Heat-treating kills a lot of the nutrition in the seeds, particularly Vitamin A which is a crucial vitamin for bird and animal health. Any ingredients that we can’t grow ourselves are sourced from operations with similar values around sustainability and respect for animals.
One of Topflite’s values is ‘Guardianship’. How do you see the connection between company and community?
Adding value to the community is something that’s always been important for us at Topflite. The notion of leaving things in better shape than we found them stems from our rural and farming background, I suppose. Our founders operated on the principle that any work done by the company for the community was considered as work for the business.
Each quarter families from the local primary school come in and label product for us as a fundraising project. We also create product packs for groups to resell which are really popular. Supporting pet shows is also a key part of what we do. Events like these add colour to the community and are a great social occasion.
On a national level, we sponsor Landcare Research to run the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey, which is about to take place from 24 June – 2 July. It’s a citizen science project, a great learning opportunity for kids.
We are long-term supporters of Forest & Bird and their Kiwi Conservation Club. The work they do aligns with our values of nurturing nature and leaving our world in a better place than we found it.
How can people get involved in the National Garden Bird Survey?
The NZ Garden Bird Survey monitors population trends of common garden birds in New Zealand. Our rare birds are monitored intensely, but more common native and introduced birds, less so. Information collected from the NZGBS can act as an early-warning system if these bird populations begin to decline. The survey runs for one week each year. To participate, you choose one hour during the week and simply record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time in your garden. You can find more information and instructions for participation on the NZ Garden Bird Survey website.
Should NZ businesses support initiatives for the greater good?
Of course. The work done by volunteers in community groups and schools is crucial for a healthy New Zealand. It’s why this is such a fantastic place to live and bring up a family. To provide support to those groups and volunteers is something that we see as really important. And as we grow, so will our involvement in the community and our support for national projects.