Young Grower of the Year
Less than three years after joining his family's orchard business he has won the 2014 Young Grower of the Year competition, beating other top professional fruit and vegetable growers from around New Zealand. Patrick is the first grower from Northland to win the award.
Patrick and his wife Rebecca were also earlier this year recognised for adopting a raft of innovations across their family kiwifruit and avocado orchard at Maungatapere, near Whangarei. The orchard is run in conjunction with Patrick's parents Dermott and Linzi, previously Hawke's Bay apple growers.
As Northland doesn't have a regional competition of its own, Patrick, aged 30, earlier won the Bay of Plenty Young Fruit Grower title to secure his place in the competition. “I was grateful for the support from Bay of Plenty. I never felt that I was an outsider.” As he had only joined his family business in 2012, he had done a lot of preparation ahead of the competition, with tasks such as driving a telehandler and building a wooden squash crate, new to him.
Normally held in conjunction with the Horticulture New Zealand annual conference, it was the first time the Young Grower of the Year was run as a stand-alone event, in Christchurch.
Runner-up was Nelson Young Fruit Grower Steve Thomas, 26. Steve is a kiwifruit and coolstore manager for Thomas Bros. in Riwaka where he has been working full-time in the family operation for seven years and is responsible for the gold kiwifruit cultivars.
OTHER FINALISTS WERE:
Hawke's Bay Young Fruit Grower, Graeme Hodges, 30. Graeme is orchard manager for Rutherglen Orchard, Havelock North, responsible for the day-to-day running of the orchard and staff management.
Northland orchardist Patrick Malley, pictured, has made a big impact in a short time since taking on a full-time role in the horticultural industry.
New Zealand Young Vegetable Grower, Brett Parker, 26. Brett is assistant crop manager for Hinemoa Quality Producers in Franklin. Brett has worked for Chris and Vicki Nicholson for two years managing crop spraying and operations and ground preparation.
Challenges ranged from a budgeting exercise on orchard profitability, to an irrigation test and assembly of a squash crate. Competitors also had to participate in a leadership panel discussing the role of associate directors of grower boards to the industry and present a three-minute speech on “What makes the best grower?” to guests at the awards dinner. Practical tasks were carried out in Latimer Square in central Christchurch, providing a public venue and interest for passing motorists.
As the 2014 Young Grower of the Year, Patrick won $2,000 cash and will go on to compete at the Young Horticulturalist of the Year competition in November against landscaping, flower grower, nursery and garden and winegrower sectors. On winning, Patrick thanked Michelle de Jong and Sue Pickering of Hort NZ, who were “like fairy godmothers” during the competition.
His family's Northland orchard is mainly kiwifruit, the majority being Hort16A Gold and the balance split between Hayward Green, G3 Gold, G14 Green and a Zespri trial. New male cultivars have been introduced to the canopy to improve pollination and the productive area of Hort16A extended 8% by installation of new end assemblies.
The 2.5ha of Hass avocados are older trees which have been heavily pruned to bring them down to manageable size and to get more light into the canopy. The family plans to replace the avocados with more kiwifruit over time.
Patrick has adopted an innovative approach to staffing by contracting out staff to other horticultural businesses when work is quiet at the orchard, to provide year-round employment. “We felt we needed to control labour on our orchard, but don't have enough work to employ people fulltime on our property. We now have 26 staff that we employ full-time on our own and other orchards.”
Their level of innovation across the whole orchard was recognised when Patrick and Rebecca were finalists in the 2014 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Outside of work Patrick is a member of Northland Search and Rescue. He also enjoys car rallying. “Mum co-drives for me, but my parents are going on the next rally together
without me, as Rebecca and I are expecting our first baby on September 4.”
Patrick has a degree in commerce and Rebecca in veterinary science and both have since graduated at level 4, production management in horticulture. “I started a horticulture degree at Massey University, then decided I wasn't going to do that for the rest of my life and switched to business. Lo and behold, I'm now a horticulturalist and loving it.”
Patrick was proud to be the second Northlander to put the region on the map this year, along with David Kidd, the first Northland grand finalist to win the Young Farmer of the Year. “I will be encouraging other Northland growers to enter the competition and go as far as I did.”
2013 Young Grower of the Year Ben James said he was unsuccessful in 2012, but decided to try again the following year. “Once again, I found stiff competition among my competitors, but having experience from the previous year allowed me to relax and enjoy it more and I won both awards.”
He has since advanced in his career to quality manager for the Havelock North Fruit Company which grows the specially-packaged small Rockit apple variety. “The new and exciting apple variety has a new packaging and marketing strategy, coupled with young orchards and a mountain of new challenges.
“For some, change is daunting. Getting out of your comfort zone is not something we like to do. However, this is how I have managed to create my success in our industry. Getting out of my comfort zone and trying something different, coupled with determination, honesty and hard work, it does pay off.
“Also through this journey I have met some fantastic, supportive and like-minded people – horticulturalists.
“To this year's contestants – the ride you are on is massive, seize your opportunities and make the most of it,” said Ben.
The only low point was one of the trophies getting broken in check-in luggage as Ben flew from Hawke's Bay to Christchurch for this year's awards. Broken into five pieces, it was fixed with superglue before that evening's presentation. His advice to future winners: “Look after the trophies, they are fairly fragile.”
2014 YOUNG GROWER OF THE YEAR ACTIVITY AWARDS:
Hortisports, Brett Parker 1, Graeme Hodges, 2.
Best practical award, Brett Parker and Graeme Hodges 1 equal, Steve Thomas 2.
Best business award, Patrick Malley 1, Steve Thomas 2.
Best speech, Patrick Malley 1, Steve Thomas 2.
Best innovation concept, Patrick Malley 1, Graeme Hodges 2.
Outstanding leadership award, Patrick Malley 1, Steve