Top young grower happy to be back at work
New Zealand’s Young Grower of the Year and Mr Apple employee, Ben James, could be forgiven for wanting a few days off after his recent endeavours, but true to form Ben is happy being back at work. Ben recently competed in the New Zealand Young Horticulturist of the Year competition representing both the fruit and vegetable sectors. Not only did Ben come third in this internationally recognised competition but he also took out the speech competition.
Ben reckons he must have some natural ability when it comes to public speaking as he keeps winning that section of the competition. “I received some great feedback about my speech even before the results were announced,” said Ben. “People were coming up to me and saying ’fantastic speech’, ‘great delivery’, and ‘you stuck to the topic well.’”
That Ben came third in this competition is no mean feat and his boss at Mr Apple, Robbie McCormick, highlights why.
“The hort sector is the hardest to represent,” says Robbie. “Ben had to represent both fruit (including pipfruit, stonefruit and kiwifruit) and vegetable growing while other contestants only represented one sector. Ben punched well above his weight and we are thrilled with his performance; it was fantastic and outstanding.” The work that is required to go into this competition is immense. Ben firstly had to win the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ competition, then the New Zealand Young Fruitgrowers’ Competition then the New Zealand Young Grower Competition.
Listening to Ben you would think that it was from here that the real work started. “I was given Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off to concentrate on the competition, and then there were the weekends.” The AGMARDT Innovation Project, a large part of the competition, took Ben over 60 hours to complete. Ben’s topic was the development of an electronic bin ticketing system.
“This system would free up the time of Quality Control, decrease packing costs due to higher diligence in the field, increase traceability and importantly was a labour saving device.”
It’s still in its development phase but Mr Apple sees many merits.
The future is very bright for Ben but he is keen to just get back into work for the moment. “I started my new role as foreman at Mr Apple’s Pilos block four months ago but this competition has been in the back of my mind the whole time. I went away for a week and thinning got started; I feel like I have missed a whole section of work.” McCormick notes that they have identified Ben for leadership within the organisation. “We are putting Ben into a mentoring role within Mr Apple, he will be helping mentor our younger employees. We are also working with the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association so that Ben can help out there too.” Ben has very strong opinions on the future of orcharding and believes that there needs to be a mind shift. “The stereotype of orchardists needs to be changed. It is NOT a job for the uneducated when there is nowhere else to go.”
He believes that everybody within the industry is responsible for changing this stereotype and that the industry needs to start with the schools. “I grew up on an orchard and declared I would never work in the industry. My parents got out just after deregulation. The industry is very different from when my parents left it. It’s more corporate. My generation grew up on or around the land, that’s changed and we need to shift our mindset. We need to capitalise on our senior staff’s knowledge.”
What we need now ladies and gentleman is “less hui and more do-ey”.
“When I went to career days there was no one from horticulture explaining to the students that a level four certificate in horticulture was equivalent to a BCITO [Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation] apprenticeship.” Ben’s achievements during the past year are all the more remarkable given that his highest qualification is level 2 Horticulture. At the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition he was up against those with tertiary degrees and double degrees. Ben’s future plans are to gain level four Certificate in Horticulture (Advanced) and maybe move onto a Diploma in Agribusiness Management. Ben thanked Mr Apple, the Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association, HortNZ, and specifically, Robbie McCormick, Gareth Ingram, and his partner Moana Jade.