Former Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says labour shortages and an avalanche of government-sponsored regulations are crippling the sector.
The competition tested the four contestant’s vegetable and fruit growing knowledge as well as skills needed to be a successful grower.
Contestants completed modules in marketing, compliance, pests and disease identification, safe tractor driving, health and safety, soil and fertilisers, irrigation and quality control.
“When they called my name saying that I had won, I was really shocked and proud,” says Feetham. “The fact that I’m the first woman to have won the Pukekohe competition is an added bonus.”
She says the competition, which took place on Friday 7 May, was fierce.
“I definitely want to credit the other competitors,” she says.
“I’m excited about the finals. It’s going to take a lot of prep to get myself ready for it, but I will try and make the Pukekohe Vegetable Growers Association proud and represent the region well.”
Feetham will represent the Pukekohe growing community at the national Young Grower of the Year competition in Wellington on 22-23 September, where six other regional finalists will compete for their share of $30,000 worth of prizes.
Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ) president, Barry O’Neil, says that the Young Grower competition plays an important role in supporting the next generation of growers and leaders.
“With the rapid rate of change and challenges facing the industry, we need to support these talented young growers. Competitions like this give young growers invaluable experience to help start their journey as the leaders of tomorrow. People like Heather show that the future of the industry is in safe hands,” says O’Neil.
“The competition showcases some of the industry’s top talent. It is a chance for us all to celebrate their success and support the industry’s rising talent.”