RIDING THE NEW WAVE
One of the founders of Hawke’s Bay’s Young Orchardist Group steps up.
At just 33 years old, newly elected Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association (HBFGA) president Ben James represents a new wave of representation in the industry.
For the 119-year old organisation recently changed its rules to allow corporate orchard staff to be office holders and Ben is the first president not to own his own orchard block.
Even though Ben is young, he has had a busy time in the industry for which he clearly holds a passion. He grew up on his parents’ orchard in Ruahapia Road near Hastings and had not originally envisaged being a fruitgrower. The family orchard was sold, and it wasn’t until Christmas of 2010 that Ben found his way back onto the land.
He undertook a cadetship at Mr Apple, before moving to Rockit.
The industry has been good for him, and he has had a rapid rise through the ranks. He won the Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower in 2012, and the following year won the national young grower competition, and came third in the New Zealand Young Horticulturalist.
“I entered the competition to test myself against my peers and to see where I sat,” he said.
“It was also a great way to get myself out there.”
Ben is part of a strong young cohort who have showed an eagerness to engage in industry activities in the last five years.
Along with two other former Hawke’s Bay Young Fruitgrower winners Chris Treneman in 2011 and Graeme Hodges in 2014 the trio formed the very successful Young Orchardist Group which now boasts a membership of 147.Of these 25 regularly coming to meetings.
“We saw a need in the industry to get young people involved, each month we get an expert to come and speak on something topical,” he said.
Graeme and Chris are also on the HBFGA executive, along with Ben.
“There is a nice group of young guys taking the reins of this group,” he said.
“We are all keen to get into the committee and governance side of things.”
Ben has been on the HBFGA for a number of years now, and said he has learnt a considerable amount watching the leadership styles of previous presidents Leon Stallard, and Lesley Wilson. He has been part of the discussion around membership.
“We changed the rules around what constitutes a bona fide grower.”
Under old rules, whoever paid the levy was able to join the HBFGA. But now if the individual is qualified in horticulture, and manages a crop, they are deemed to be a grower.
“It was important to realign the association with what the industry looks like now, where 60 percent of orchards are owned and operated under corporate management,” he said.
One of Ben’s focus points will be to actively promote membership to other young like-minded people. He plans to continue to work in the association’s three key areas, of protecting the land, fostering education and employment opportunities, and promoting the industry. Exciting developments in the education area will contribute to horticulture being seen as a viable career path.
2018 is going to be a busy year for Ben as he’s the outgoing orchard manager for Rockit’s Puketapu sector, and will take on the role as pipfruit technical manager over all of Rockit’s orchards. Rockit has 178 hectares under its management in Hawke’s Bay but has big development plans with that amount to grow to 500ha in the next three years. Ben is excited he will also be looking after Rockit’s overseas plantings in Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and the United States.
He credits his employer for allowing him to pursue the presidency as another step on his career path. It’s time for a change in the way the HBFGA operates, he believes. The president’s job had become too big for one person and he will be looking to divide the workload in a more collaborative approach.
“We have an exciting collection of people on the executive with real horse power and knowledge.”
“It was important to realign the association with what the industry looks like now, where 60 percent of orchards are owned and operated under corporate management.”