Dead heat a first for young grower contest
In a first for the competition, the Young Vegetable Grower of the Year has two winners after a day of challenges ended in a dead heat.
What is even more remarkable, both winners, Esteban Ibanez, from Chile and Gurjant Singh, from India, are relatively recent immigrants for whom English is a second language.
The day-long competition in Christchurch in May saw entrants compete in a series of practical and theoretical challenges designed to test the skills needed to run a successful vegetable growing business, from pest identification to forklift proficiency.
A production agronomist for Leaderbrand’s South Island operation, near Ashburton, Esteban, at 30, was taking part in his first and only chance at the title before reaching the competition’s age limit.
On entering he was aware that having English as his second language was the toughest barrier to overcome. However, he received strong support from his co-workers at Leaderbrand who had urged him to give it a go.
Gurjant, 27, said his win was “unbelievable and unexpected” as some of the tasks were different
from his daily job. “The most important thing was I made a lot of connections.”
Coming from a farming background in Punjab, India, Gurjant moved to New Zealand in 2008. He studied level 4 horticulture at the Manukau Institute of Technology and has worked in several roles for T&G. He is now an assistant grower at T&G’s GER site at Tuakau, south of Auckland, 10 hectares of covered glass growing large loose tomatoes. Gurjant entered the Young Vegetable Grower competition to challenge himself and further his dream of becoming a top grower.
Third-placed was Lincoln Roper, of Canterbury, who is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce (agriculture) degree at Lincoln University. Only 18, this is already the second time he has competed, coming runner-up in 2016. Lincoln also works at Roper and Son Ltd, his parents’ vegetable operation, which specialises in peeled red onions and pumpkins.
Also competing were Glen Laing, 18, crop operations assistant for Hinemoa Quality Producers Ltd, at Pukekawa, Auckland and Lachlan Bensemann, 19, a production apprentice at Oakleys Premium Fresh Vegetables, at Southbridge in Central Canterbury.
Competitors were tested on business modules covering labour aspects such as employment law and staff management. They also had to prepare a marketing plan for a vegetable product as well as identify pests and diseases. Practical activities were the assembly of a wooden export crate, fertiliser identification and forklift use.
Scoring was close throughout the competition, with Esteban and Gurjant winning most of the competition modules and coming first equal in the identification of pests and diseases. Both receive a $2000 study travel award. Lincoln won best speech on the topic of bridging the urban-rural divide.
Gurjant said he came to New Zealand to study horticulture. He has a farming background, growing wheat, chillies, maize, barley and running a small dairy farm in India. On his arrival, he said he could write English, but his speaking “was not good”. He is married to Sharanjeet Kaur and the couple have a daughter.
Esteban and his wife Yasna came to New Zealand from Chile in late 2012 after both had completed Bachelor of Agriculture degrees. “My wife’s teacher suggested that there were opportunities in New Zealand.” While Esteban is at Leaderbrand, Yasna works at Zealandia Horticulture, a plant nursery at Belfast on the north side of Christchurch.
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the industry had a shortage of workers “and seeing young people like this coming to New Zealand to work in the vegetable growing industry shows how viable it is as a career option.
"Horticulture is a $5.68 billion industry, and one in which these young men will be leaders before too long. They have demonstrated that they have the capability to move the industry forward and engage with the people who enjoy the healthy food they produce, and clearly have bright futures ahead of them."
The Young Vegetable Grower of the Year competition was run by the Horticulture Canterbury Growers’ Society, in association with Horticulture New Zealand. Now in its 12th year, the competition continues to exemplify the quality of young people entering the vegetable growing industry.
Esteban and Gurjant, together with four regional Young Fruit Grower finalists, will go on to compete for the 2018 Young Grower of the Year title, in Napier on August 21 to 22.
“Seeing young people like this coming to New Zealand to work in the vegetable growing industry shows how viable it is as a career option.”
q Charlotte Connoley, managing director of South Pacific Seeds, congratulates Gurjant, left, and Esteban on their win.