>>YOUNG HOR­TI­CUL­TUR­IST OF THE YEAR Hard work pays off for savvy hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist

The Orchardist - - Citrus - By Kris­tine Walsh

At a black-tie awards din­ner at Auckand’s Grand Mil­len­nium Ho­tel in Novem­ber, Gis­borne mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist Shanna Hick­ling (25) was named win­ner of the 2017 com­pe­ti­tion ahead of three other com­peti­tors.

And while she net­ted a to­tal prize pack­age valued at over $13,500, the hor­ti­cul­tural hot-ticket says the re­wards were greater than that.

“I’ve def­i­nitely come away from the Young Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist ex­pe­ri­ence with some new friends,” she says. “But I got so much more out of it than that, from the chance to de­velop new skills to es­tab­lish­ing some re­ally in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing con­tacts.”

Grow­ing up at The Falls – her par­ents’ sheep and beef sta­tion at Rere, just 50 kilo­me­tres north-west of Gis­borne – Ms Hick­ling went to nearby Rere School un­til year 8 when she went to board at Hawke’s Bay’s Wood­ford House.

But that didn’t let her off the hook at home, she says.

“Mum and dad would save all the big jobs for us so ev­ery hol­i­days we would be dock­ing, drench­ing, what­ever had to be done,” she says of the home life ex­pe­ri­enced by the three Hick­ling sis­ters – Shanna, in­te­rior ar­chi­tect Lau­ren (27), and school teacher Jas­mine (22).

“But though it was re­ally hard work, I wouldn’t change that for any­thing. It made me re­ally in­de­pen­dent and will­ing to take on any­thing in life. And hav­ing to guide work­ers like the WWOOFers that of­ten stayed on the farm helped me de­velop some lead­er­ship skills pretty early on.”

Be­cause of that en­vi­ron­ment she had hoped to train as a vet: “I ab­so­lutely love an­i­mals and that’s what made me fo­cus on sci­ences in the first place.”

But com­pe­ti­tion was tough and she didn’t get through to fur­ther train­ing. Un­de­terred, Ms Hick­ling dou­bled down to con­tinue to achieve top marks – in the top five per­cent – in her de­gree in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy and ge­net­ics.

“I did stats, too which has re­ally taken me a long way in my work . . . I even used it to cre­ate a spread­sheet to work out the pay­ment sched­ule for my home loan,” says the self-con­fessed nerd.

And that came in handy dur­ing the young hor­ti­cul­tur­ist event, when en­trants were chal­lenged to study a busi­ness case and work out the costs and ben­e­fits, fea­si­bil­ity, and the best way to progress the fic­tional busi­ness.

“I might even have picked up some in­come streams that the de­signer of the ex­er­cise hadn’t en­vis­aged,” she laughs. “You never know what you are go­ing to find when you bur­row right down.”

Back at univer­sity, though, upon com­plet­ing her stud­ies at the end of 2013 Ms Hick­ling had two op­tions on of­fer. On the one hand, she had earned a schol­ar­ship so she could un­der­take post-grad­u­ate study; on the other, a chance meet­ing at a Gis­borne den­tist had se­cured her an in­ter­view with River­sun Nurs­ery found­ing di­rec­tor Ge­off Thorpe who, he says, “de­cided to move heaven and earth” to get her on board.

So in typ­i­cal style, she did both, start­ing work at River­sun the day af­ter she in­ter­viewed and, with the com­pany’s sup­port, do­ing post-grad­u­ate study in project man­age­ment.

That turned out to be the right call, she says, “know­ing the best way to go about things re­ally helped my re­search and de­vel­op­ment skills”.

When she started, Mr Thorpe had carved out a po­si­tion for her as a re­search and de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tant across both River­sun and its test­ing and re­search arm Lin­naeus Lab­o­ra­tory, and within a year she was run­ning the lab where she and five staff fo­cused on ELISA and PCR test­ing, mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy di­ag­nos­tics, and re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

From left: It’s like it was meant to be . . . the stun­ning, 3.5-kilo­gram glass tro­phy won by Young Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist of the Year, Shanna Hick­ling, echoes the plant­ings out­side River­sun/Lin­neaus Lab­o­ra­tory’s Gis­borne premises. “River­sun has not only sup­porte

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