Top young grower happy to be back at work

The Orchardist - - Contents - By Les­ley Wil­son

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.

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