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Atkinson, 30, technical advisor for Apata Group in Te Puke, won the award in Christchurch last night after a long day pitting her skills, knowledge and experience against four other finalists.
She is the first woman to win the title, which is in its 11th year.
Atkinson, who won the Bay of Plenty section back in February, also secured the national title of Young Fruit Grower tonight along with the best business, best innovation and best speech titles.
Runner-up for Young Grower was Scott Wilcox of Pukekohe, who is also Young Vegetable Grower 2017, while third place went to Ben Geaney of Waimate.
Atkinson has a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and has spent most of her working life in the horticulture industry. She said she was extremely proud to have been named Young Grower, especially as the standard of the other finalists was very high.
“It was an extremely challenging competition but I’ve really enjoyed meeting the other finalists and am looking forward to taking the award back to Te Puke.”
The Young Grower of the Year competition is run by Horticulture New Zealand and sponsored by the Horticentre Trust. During the competition, all five finalists competed in a series of practical and theoretical challenges designed to test the skills needed to run a successful export-focused horticultural business. They also took part in a leadership panel discussion before delivering a speech on biosecurity in front of the judges at the awards dinner attended by 200 people.
Judges looked for individuals who could make a difference in their sectors and the industry, going beyond great skills to also include leadership, attitude and personality.
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive, Mike Chapman, says the aim of the competition was to foster excellence amongst young growers and future-proof a $5.6 billion industry that exports 60% of total production to 124 countries.
“The Young Grower competition is a great way to nurture the interest and passion of younger generations as well as showcase the industry. It’s a very rewarding industry to be in and it so encouraging to see the depth of young talent demonstrated this week. We look forward to seeing the career progression of each of these potential industry leaders.”
The 2017 placings were:
- Young Grower, Young Fruit Grower, Countdown Best Business title, SPS Best Innovation title and Fruitfed Supplies Best Speech title – Erin Atkinson of Te Puke
- Runner-up, Ballance Best Practical Title and New Zealand Young Vegetable Grower 2017 – Scott Wilcox, Pukekohe
- Third place winner and Central Otago Young Fruit Grower 2017 – Ben Geaney, Waimate
- Winner of the Balance Leadership Panel / Outstanding Leadership Award and Nelson Young Fruit Grower 2017 – Ralph Bastian, Appleby
- Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower 2016 and 2017 – Jordon James, Whakatu