YOUNG GROWER WINNER
There was plenty of competition of the Young Grower of the Year contest but only one of the seven contestants could win.
Danni van der Heijden followed the advice of her predecessor, in “having another go” at the Young Grower of the Year contest held in Napier on August 22.
That advice paid off as she claimed the national title over a high calibre field of top young fruit and vegetable growers.
For the second year running, a woman from the Bay of Plenty region has won the title. Last year Erin Atkinson became the first woman to win the competition in its 11- year history, and last year she urged Danni to persevere as progressing from the regional competition to a national level was a rewarding experience.
Born and bred in Auckland, Danni did not have much of an idea about horticulture, but rather took a series of steps that drew her into the avocado industry. She was on a mission, opting to leave school early at the end of Year 12 to attend the University of Waikato, to undertake a Bachelor of Science majoring in chemistry and biology.
She went straight from university to a seasonal job at New Zealand Avocado, before moving on to Trevelyan’s Pack & Cool in Tauranga where her responsibilities included grower technical support, data analysis and reporting, mapping and research.
In a recent move she joined AVOCO as a technical representative, responsible for grower technical support and orchard management advice.
Danni, 24, used her high level of focus to prepare for the contest, researching wide and varied topics to prepare for what the contest might throw at her. Her love of learning meant the preparation for the contest was not a hardship for her.
Seven contestants from around New Zealand competed in the practical section in the Art Deco seafront Soundshell
in the centre of Napier. Tasks included identifying a range of fertilisers, pest and disease, finding fault with an irrigation
system and demonstrating their skill on a small digger.
Lisa Arnold from Bostock New Zealand, Hastings, won the practical section.
The fun Hortisports section followed, with contestants challenged to throw a range of vegetables through a basketball hoop, and then make a salad out of the fruit. Central Otago’s Hamish Darling proved he had both basketball and cooking skills to take out this section.
In the afternoon contestants participated in business modules and a leadership panel, with Danni claiming wins in finance, business interruption, planning and logistics modules, as well as claiming the Best Business Overall Award.
Hamish, a third generation horticulturist from Cromwell, collected the Best Innovation and Outstanding Leadership Awards.
Dinner and speeches followed at the Napier Conference Centre in what was emerging as a tight contest. Danni won this section, which ultimately gave her the overall prize, speaking about a future in horticulture with robotics, artificial intelligence and a carbon net zero goal by 2050. She warned laboratory-grown food, and 3-D printed produce posed a real threat.
“If we are static we will be left behind, we must develop strategies for the future …”
The Young Grower of the Year registered a cluster of firsts. Gisborne contestant, Matt Gomm participated on behalf of his region, the first time Gisborne has had a contestant. Two vegetable growers Esteban Ibanez (Leaderbrand South Island) and Gurjant Singh (T&G Favona) finished in a dead heat at the qualifying Vegetable Grower of the Year contest and went on to represent their sector in Napier. Both are relatively new immigrants for whom English is a second language.
The competition to determine the best young grower in the country is part of Horticulture New Zealand’s strategy to support the growth and development of future horticultural leaders.
Horticulture New Zealand president, Julian Raine, said the competition’s aim was to foster excellence among young growers and future-proof the industry. The Young Grower competition was a great way to nurture the interest and passion of younger generations as well as showcase the industry.
Horticentre director, Tony Ivicevich, expressed his confidence in the horticultural industry, which he believes will surpass dairying’s earnings at some point in the future.