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.

NZ Grower - - Contents - By Heather Chalmers Photos Ivor Earp-Jones

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.

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