Three in a row – no pres­sure!

Young Veg­etable Grower of the Year Scott Wilcox says he per­forms well un­der pres­sure and nowhere was that more ev­i­dent than at the Young Veg­etable Grower of the Year Din­ner in Pukekohe in mid-May.

NZ Grower - - Food Security - By Glenys Chris­tian

He was the last of six fi­nal­ists to give their speech as the fi­nal task of what had been a long and gru­elling day due to wet weather which made many of the prac­ti­cal tests the con­tes­tants had to com­pete in any­thing but fun.

But 23-year-old Scott, a fourth gen­er­a­tion grower, said he en­joyed the fact that he had to wait for his turn on at the lectern.

“I could har­ness my emo­tions more. I could use my ner­vous­ness for the best. But be­ing last was prob­a­bly a dis­ad­van­tage be­cause the pres­sure went up and up.”

Scott had pre­pared well for his speech by join­ing the Franklin Toast­mas­ters Club and 2015 Young Grower win­ner, Hamish Gates also gave him some good ad­vice.

“My pub­lic speak­ing has come a long way.”

So has Scott since leav­ing school and go­ing to Lin­coln Univer­sity. There he switched from an agribusi­ness de­gree to a com­merce de­gree, so he could fo­cus more on hor­ti­cul­ture rather than pas­toral farm­ing.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing his stud­ies he spent the win­ter pos­sum trap­ping for the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion in Te Urew­era Na­tional Park.

“I’ve al­ways been into hunt­ing, and still to try to squeeze some in where I can. But I like to eat what I kill so prefer­ably that’s deer rather than goat.”

Next up he spent a sea­son at the fam­ily busi­ness, A S Wilcox in Pukekohe, where he’d pre­vi­ously worked dur­ing school hol­i­days. He op­er­ated a potato har­vest­ing ma­chine as part of one of the com­pany’s har­vest­ing crews and said it was dur­ing this time that the idea of work­ing in veg­etable growing in the fu­ture “re­ally clicked for me”.

But in mid-2016 it was time to take off to Los An­ge­les with three univer­sity friends for an ex­ten­sive mo­tor­bike trip.

“It was pretty new to me,” he said, ad­mit­ting the 650cc mo­tor­bike he


bought once in LA was “a big step up” from any­thing he’d pre­vi­ously rid­den.

Their tour ended up four months late in Buenos Aires hav­ing passed through 13, or was it 14 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, cov­er­ing a to­tal of 24,000 kilo­me­tres. As well as some big days on the road there were also in­stances where liv­ing off their wits was called for, such as when they needed to pay off the po­lice in Mex­ico. Other scares in­cluded a front tyre blowout in Peru which saw him slide into the wrong traf­fic lane.

“There were con­stant is­sues with the electrics on the bikes but one guy with us was pretty clued up and he could train the rest of us up.”

Com­ing back home to New Zealand as a group wasn’t too hard and he quickly set­tled into his new role as an as­sis­tant in A S Wilcox’ com­pany’s car­rot growing pro­gramme.

“It’s hard to de­fine,” he said.

As well as a lo­gis­tics com­po­nent he’s also in­volved in run­ning growing tri­als out in the field. And he got more in­volved in the Pukekohe Young Grow­ers’ Group. He talked to 2015 win­ner Hamish Gates, also of A S Wilcox, as well as the 2016 Young Veg­etable Grower of the Year, An­drew Hutchin­son, who went on to take out the Young Hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist of the Year ti­tle. With them all work­ing at A S Wilcox there was plenty of pres­sure to em­u­late their suc­cess and make it three in a row for the com­pany.

“But I wasn’t scared of that,” he said.

As well as the com­pe­ti­tion in­volved with other young grow­ers he saw the ben­e­fits of en­ter­ing as help­ing him push his learn­ing within the in­dus­try and mix­ing with other young grow­ers.

His prepa­ra­tion for the com­pe­ti­tion in­volved set­ting aside time af­ter work for sev­eral weeks be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion, as well as tak­ing up a lot of his week­ends. Asked about the ar­eas he needed to brush up on he said he con­cen­trated on learn­ing more about plant and soil sci­ence and fer­tiliser to give him a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the prin­ci­ples in­volved.

“There was a lot of read­ing and talk­ing to peo­ple at work such as Bryan Hart. But with the com­pe­ti­tion be­ing so wide in its scope and some ques­tions be­ing so de­tailed it was hard to study for ev­ery sin­gle one. There’s al­ways some­thing that stumps you.”

While he found the trac­tor op­er­a­tion sec­tion of the com­pe­ti­tion eas­ier than he thought, and so was able to be more re­laxed, the hu­man re­sources com­po­nent was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

“It’s a big step up and you’ve got to be pre­pared to put in the hard work if you want to do well.”

“It wasn’t on an area I had stud­ied, but com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” he said.

“And the ir­ri­ga­tion sec­tion tripped me up as well. I’d never worked with such small fit­tings and un­der time pres­sure.”

Scott said he thought the com­pe­ti­tion was very tight so didn’t ex­pect to win at all.

“I was a bit sur­prised.”

Now his im­me­di­ate sched­ule in­volves sit­ting down with Hamish and An­drew again and putting to­gether a game plan for the next two months which will see him first com­pete in the Young Grower of the Year Com­pe­ti­tion then hope­fully the Young Hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist of the Year fi­nal.

“It’s a big step up and you’ve got to be pre­pared to put in the hard work if you want to do well.”

In some ways he said it’s good to have expectations that he can fol­low Hamish’s then An­drew’s suc­cess.

“That’s pushed me on, and gave me the drive to meet them. I like a bit of pres­sure be­cause it puts the heat on. Most of the time I like to think I can per­form un­der pres­sure. It’s no prob­lem to fo­cus and get the job done.” Al­ready he has some ten­ta­tive plans in place, which are likely to in­volve gain­ing some work ex­pe­ri­ence in the Euro­pean veg­etable in­dus­try around this time next year. A S Wilcox has plenty of con­tacts there and he’s keen to get some ex­po­sure to how things are done dif­fer­ently. Be­yond that he said it’s hard for him to lock down any de­tails about where he might spe­cial­ize be­cause he very much ap­pre­ci­ates all the ad­van­tages the veg­etable growing in­dus­try of­fers.

“It’s the idea of con­tribut­ing to growing healthy pro­duce that makes it part of some­thing a bit spe­cial. It’s healthy for you and that’s the way of the fu­ture.”

“It’s the idea of con­tribut­ing to growing healthy pro­duce that makes it part of some­thing a bit spe­cial.”

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