The 2023 Nelson Young Grower of the Year has been announced, with orchard hand from Hoddy’s Fruit Co of Stoke, Dillon Peterson, taking the title for a second time. Peterson’s first win in the regional finals was in 2018, and with five years more experience, he decided to try out again.
Peterson said that since the last time he entered, he had cumulated a significant amount of personal and professional development, leading him to enter again, which has now led him to compete at the national Young Grower of the Year finals in Pukekohe, between the 4th and 5th of October.
Having grown up in Wakefield, close to Nelson, he added that he liked that every day was different and that working in horticulture allowed him to be outside to enjoy the seasonal changes. Peterson also takes enjoyment from the equipment he can use and work with.
Starting in horticulture out of school as a general orchard hand before becoming a permanent staff member at Hoddy’s, Peterson said that his role encompasses various tasks. However, he primarily works on the apple harvest team, doing winter pruning and conducting machinery and irrigation maintenance.
When he’s not working, Dillon enjoys quad bike riding, four-wheel-driving and mechanics. His inclination for mechanics and machines has made him the go-to person for addressing machinery issues that may arise while at work at Hoddy’s.
Fellow competitors for the Nelson title this year included Kaahu Birdling, the supervisor at Thomas Bros, Palace Wheki, the orchard hand of Tyrella Orchards, Te Konga Te Whare Ponga Moko, the orchard hand of Tyrella Orchards, and finally, Jordan Popata, supervisor and quality-control of Thomas Bros.
With the competition at the Richmond Park Showgrounds, each participating contestant had their horticultural knowledge and practical skills tested through a series of events, with a special gala dinner following, after which each gave a speech.
Birdling was raised in a house truck travelling the South Island and began working in the industry at 15 by pruning kiwifruit. Since then, Birdling has looked back, with the contestant sharing how the industry opportunities within the sector have been various and high in number. Birdling said they appreciated their employers entrusting them with responsibilities, including meeting new people and learning and developing consistently.
Wheki had planned a career of becoming a flight attendant, which the pandemic quashed. However, she has no regrets and loves her current work within the horticulture industry, particularly for the time she gets to spend in the Orchard during the warm months, in the sunshine, and smelling flowers. She added that the confidence and encouragement she received from her employers were another significant factor in the industry.
Te Whare Ponga Moko’s roles range from forklift driving and orchard work. Te Whare Ponga Mokoen added that they enjoyed working with people from all other walks of life and different cultures, as well as the learning opportunities available within the industry about how to assemble an orchard and understand the soils.
Popata was born and raised in Motueka, her love of growing plants being the primary desire driving her into the horticulture industry. She initially began as quality control in the packhouse. However, now Popata supervises 18 RSE workers picking fruit.
The following 2023 Young Grower of the Year regional final will be held in Tauranga on 12 July.