The competition took place on Saturday, 10 February, at Te Puke Showgrounds, where the six competitors went through a series of challenges, testing their skills and ability to run a successful orchard. These were followed by a speech competition discussing future disruptors to horticulture at the dinner .
van der Heijden took five individual challenge awards, and especially impressing judges with her speech on science and technology as disruptors to horticulture.
Aaron Wright came in second place, while Hamish McKain was third.
van der Heijden’s prize includes an all-expenses paid trip to Napier in August, to compete for the title of national Young Grower of the Year 2018, as well as $1500 cash. She credits her success to her training, and says that her competitors put up a great fight.
"I’m feeling pretty good," van der Heijden says. "We all did our best, it was a really tough competition, and I’m glad to have won. "Last year I came second, so I pretty much had to come back. I’m especially glad to have won the avocado challenge, that’s my area, and I can’t wait to get to the finals in August. There’s not a lot of women that enter these events, so women winning two years in a row is great."
Katy McGinity, Chair of the Bay of Plenty Young Fruitgrower Upskilling Committee says that the quality of the contestants was exceptional. "It was great to see such a high calibre of competitors at the 2018 event. I would like to offer my congratulations to all of the contestants who illustrated not only their own skills, but also the roles and development opportunities that are available in the horticulture industry."
CEO of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated Nikki Johnston thinks that attracting young people into horticulture is vital to continue the industry’s growth. "Horticulture profits the BOP region by approx. $1.8 billion p.a. and this is growing as the industry expands. It is important to attract and retain employees by focusing on job opportunities though careers and education within the industry.
"Events such as the Bay of Plenty Young Fruitgrower competition illustrate this commitment to developing our young people and are an excellent chance to create awareness about the roles and development opportunities that are available. I congratulate all of the Young Fruitgrower competitors who have shown themselves to be upcoming stars of our booming industry."
Horticulture New Zealand CE Mike Chapman agrees on the importance of youth engagement and recognition. "The Young Grower competitions show that there are capable, ambitious young people entering the primary industries, and demonstrate to the country that horticulture is not only an option for their future, but an exciting and potentially very rewarding one. Today’s competitors are a great example of young people who are passionate about the industry’s future and their role in it.
"Danni and the other contestants are exactly the kind of people the future of our industry will be based on; young and passionate. We want them thinking about careers in horticulture."
The day-long Bay of Plenty competition was held as part of the Te Puke A&P Show.
With six competitors aged under 30, all Bay of Plenty locals, the competition was well supported by local and national horticulture companies, including Eurofins BOP, MPAC, Fertco, Zespri, and Prospa.
van der Heijden will now go on to compete in the annual national Young Grower of the Year competition run by Horticulture New Zealand to select the top young fruit or vegetable grower in the country. Proudly sponsored by the Horticentre Trust, the winners from five regional events go forward to contest the final. The competition is part of Horticulture New Zealand’s strategy to support the growth and development of New Zealand’s future horticultural leaders.