Efforts by primary stakeholders, helped by the rising prevalence of technology in the horticultural sector, appear to be paying off as more and more young people enter the industry.
Initiatives such as the Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016 Competition – to be contested on Thursday 10 November – andT&G Pipfruit’s annual Young Fruit Growers recent competition, which attracted spectators from Hastings Girls High School, are helping to change perceptions and generate excitement about careers in one of New Zealand's more profitable primary industries.
T&G is a major partner of the national Young Hort competition, but also runs the company's internal competition for young orchard workers as a pathway to the pipfruit sector contest (whose winner goes on to the national contest for New Zealand's best young horticulturist).
T&G corporate communications manager, Jo Jalfon, said that this year was the first time the public and high school students were invited to observe and learn about New Zealand’s $700 million dollar pipfruit industry, of which T&G is a major player, and the opportunities the company and industry offers.
“Young people are unsure of what to do when they leave school and many don’t realise the amazing opportunities the horticulture sector offers them. The competition and open day helps our young people hone and test their knowledge while showing others the awesome and varied roles available to them," Ms Jalfon said.
The national manager of Fruitfed Supplies, Max Spence, said his observation was that the pervasiveness of technology and the rise of corporate growers were facilitating the entry of more young people into the business.
"I think that competitions like the Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016 Competition are particularly valuable in helping young people to see how they can develop a career in horticulture beyond just having a job.
"We're beginning to see a lot of bright young people in the corporate businesses of grape, apple and Kiwifruit growers – either employed by the growers or their suppliers – who are working to develop new technology. There's a lot of research going on that will be commercialised, and that alone is a positive upside for our industry."
Mr Spence said that meeting customer demands for greater sustainability and traceability – in which New Zealand is a global leader – required greater emphasis on technology and science.
"We do need more scientists in the industry, and a greater emphasis on science in schools and tertiary education," he said.
AGMARDT general manager, Malcolm Nitschke, agreed that there is a lift in the quality and calibre of young people entering the horticulture industry, saying that the quality of the contestants in this year's Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016 Competition reflects that shift.
"In general we're very encouraged by the fact that horticulture is starting to be viewed as a good career choice for many young people. For the sector to continue to grow and thrive, requires capable and passionate people throughout the whole value chain, providing great ideas that lead to fantastic innovations."
Mr Nitschke said the huge focus on technology – in particular apps and sensors to manage and monitor both crops and product – fits the interests of young people.
"Traceability is huge. Customers demand transparency across the whole supply chain and technology is enabling us to pick the right fruit, at the right time, and at the right quality for the right market.
"When it comes to sustainability, technology is helping us monitor and manage what's going on, enabling targeted responses to pests and diseases. Technology in horticulture is about prevention rather than cure, and I think the possibilities inherent in this are leading young people to recognise that their interests and values can align with the scale and depth of opportunities in horticulture," he said.
The five finalists in the Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture Education Trust’s ‘Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016 Competition’ – to be contested this week on Wednesday and Thursday – come from Pukekohe, Auckland (2), Hawke's Bay and the Manawatu.
The finalists – all winners of their respective horticulture sectors – will compete in the Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016 Competition’ grand final, held over the two days of November 9 and 10, at the Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa.
Finalists (30 years and under) compete for a prize pool of over $40,000 that includes a $7,500 T&G travel and accommodation package and a $5,500 Massey University study scholarship, as well as an AGMARDT Market Innovation Project first prize of $5,000.
The Young Horticulturist of the Year competition is made possible through the generous support of Young Horticulturist of the Year 2016 competition partners, AGMARDT, T&G and Fruitfed Supplies.
Supporters of the competition are Bayer CropScience, Massey University, Primary ITO, Countdown, NZ Gardener Magazine and Trillian Trust. Plus, affiliated supporters, friends, volunteers and industry specialist who give their time.