One of the founders of Hawke’s Bay’s Young Or­chardist Group steps up.

The Orchardist - - Front Page - By Rose Man­ner­ing

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.”

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