Winning the 2015 Young Fruit Grower of the Year award is a tremendous confidence boost says Katikati's Craig Ward.
The 26 year-old Apata Grow technical manager was also runner-up for the overall Young Grower of the Year competition held over two days in Christchurch, which was won by Pukekohe's Hamish Gates.
Katikati's Craig Ward took home the 2015 Young Fruit Grower of the Year award last night. Photo: Supplied.
'I knew the competition was going to be tough, but taking part and challenging myself has shown what I can achieve,” says Craig, who won the title from three other young fruit growers last night.
Craig says the national contest was a step up from the regional event which he won in June, and covered a much wider field of horticulture including pipfruit, stone fruit, potatoes and market gardening.
'One of the hardest challenges from a time point of view was assembling a large wooden squash crate, which I don't think any of us got finished,” he adds.
As well as practical challenges, the competitors were also tested on their theory and business knowledge and gave speeches to the award's night dinner audience. The speech topic focused on future technology, including the use of robotics in horticulture.
'I agree New Zealand needs to be more advanced than our competitors and this is how we have developed the $7 billion industry we already have,” explains Craig.
'Some technology currently in development will be used in the future, but the industry will always need skilled people at all levels.”
Craig says the competition at both regional and national levels is a chance to network with other young growers, industry leaders and sponsors.
'I would recommend any young grower to enter because of the wonderful opportunities the contest offers both for their current and future careers,” he adds.
Having grown up on a farm and avocado orchard near Katikati, Craig picked up a Bachelor of Applied Science in Horticulture from Massey University and a Post-Graduate Diploma of Agri-Science in Horticulture.
He's recently been promoted to technical manager with Apata Grow and will be back at work in that role on Monday morning.
'The role changes quite a bit during the year, which is one of the things I like about it,” he says.
'At harvest time I'm responsible for making decisions on picking, depending on fruit maturity, and at other times for technical transfer of information to growers, including through a newsletter and holding field days.
'I'm also involved with spray programmes and pest control and working closely with our grower services team.”
Craig also works with a small group of growers, so he has an understanding of what's happening on orchard throughout the season.
He adds he's grateful for the mentoring he receives from Apata management, including Neil Cameron and Sonia Whiteman, as well as several orchardists who offered advice and assistance in preparing for the competition.
Apata is a strong supporter of the Bay of Plenty Young Grower awards, and was a gold sponsor this year. Craig says the company focuses on helping staff develop their potential and he was encouraged and supported while entering the awards.