From spade to stage in style

The Orchardist - - Young Grower - Story and pho­tos by Denise Landow

As well as be­ing handy with a spade, mal­let, knap­sack sprayer and trac­tor, con­tes­tants in the 2017 Bay of Plenty Young Grower of the Year had to cal­cu­late for­mu­las, have their bug knowl­edge scru­ti­nised and pol­ish their per­sonal style to shine on the stage in front of hun­dreds of guests.

Re­ally – who would not want to put them­selves through that?

Six hardy and en­ter­pris­ing souls did put ev­ery­thing on the line when they par­tic­i­pated in Fe­bru­ary – the 12th year of the Bay of Plenty com­pe­ti­tion. It’s come to be known as the re­gion’s most high-pro­file and ex­cit­ing hor­ti­cul­tural event. Five con­tes­tants rep­re­sented the Bay of Plenty, while a lone North­land man did his best and flew the flag from his home prov­ince. They were:

Erin Atkin­son (29) a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor for Apata Group Ltd, Te Puke

Danni van der Hei­j­den (23) an av­o­cado ser­vices rep for Trevelyan’s Pack & Cool, Tau­ranga

• Aaron Wright (26) a re­gional man­ager for EastPack,

Te Puke

• Ho­hepa Tatana (29) a se­nior as­sis­tant or­chard

man­ager for Onyx Hor­ti­cul­ture Ltd, Whangarei

Nikesh Gu­rung (27) a su­per­vi­sor/as­sis­tant man­ager for Bay Gold Ltd, Te Puke

• Hamish McKain (26) a ki­wifruit pro­duc­tion and

av­o­cado har­vest man­ager for DMS, Te Puna

The fa­cial ex­pres­sions of Erin and Danni said it all on the night – they were ab­so­lutely thrilled and clearly

taken aback. It was the first time in com­pe­ti­tion his­tory that women have won both first and sec­ond place. As well as a rather at­trac­tive tro­phy, Erin re­ceived $1,500 cash and an all­ex­penses paid trip to com­pete for the na­tional 2017 Young Grower of the Year ti­tle in Au­gust.


The first day of com­pe­ti­tion was set in amongst the hec­tic or­gan­ised chaos of the Te Puke A& P Show in Paen­garoa.

While show-go­ers re­laxed and basked in bril­liant sun­shine, the com­peti­tors did their ut­most to stay cool un­der pres­sure and make the most of each short but in­tense round of ac­tiv­i­ties. Ev­ery step of the way, the judges were on hand to mea­sure their ev­ery word and ac­tion, how­ever, the six were of­fered help­ful in­for­ma­tion as and when re­quired.There was a def­i­nite ten­sion in the air dur­ing ‘exam’ time and or­gan­is­ers were busy be­hind the scenes mak­ing sure ev­ery­one was where they were meant to be so that the event could un­fold with­out a hitch.

For spec­ta­tors, prob­a­bly most ex­cit­ing for the eye was the av­o­cado seedling planting chal­lenge, run by NZ Av­o­cado.

This held on­look­ers fas­ci­nated as all the care­ful and nec­es­sary steps were taken by each con­tes­tant to dig, pre­pare, plant, water, tie up and cre­ate shel­ter around the young and pre­cious plants.

Driving a trac­tor is easy, right? Try hav­ing a Cap­i­tal Trac­tors guy with a clip­board watch­ing your ev­ery move and ask­ing ques­tions, and know­ing ev­ery ‘wrong’ choice is go­ing to count against you. No pres­sure! No orange safety cones were harmed dur­ing this field phase – so I’m told.

An­other ac­tiv­ity, pro­vided by Farm­lands, in­volved be­ing pro­vided a kit-set bee­hive. It re­quired trans­port­ing the gear via quad bike to be as­sem­bled on ‘a new site’ and set­ting its GPS lo­ca­tion. The test con­tin­ued with par­tic­i­pants re­turn­ing home to for­mally reg­is­ter the hive and fully com­plete the al­limpor­tant pa­per­work.

A test with a knap-sack sprayer had the con­tes­tants rack­ing the math­e­mat­i­cal sec­tors of their brains to cal­cu­late and cal­i­brate equa­tions. Lots of punch­ing the cal­cu­la­tor keys and ref­er­ence ma­te­rial did not make the time go quickly enough, but the judge-in­struc­tor, Les Howard from Hor­ti­cen­tre Trust was a calm­ing in­flu­ence and helped each per­son with equal dig­nity.

Other the­ory-based tests in­volved an or­chard prof­itabil­ity quiz (pro­vided by Mayston Part­ners Ltd) and a biose­cu­rity test run by Ki­wifruit Vine Health. Un­der the shade of the tents, the six were cer­tainly feel­ing the heat as the paper-based ques­tions ripped into the re­cesses of their core knowl­edge.

From top: Ho­hepa Tatana an­swer­ing ques­tions Nikesh Gur­ing cal­cu­lat­ing Aaron Wright, an­other fi­nal­ist

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