Jacob Coombridge, a 22-year-old orchard supervisor at Webb’s Fruit, has won the 2022 Central Otago Young Grower competition.
Akonga vied for the title against six other contestants in a series of theoretical and practical modules designed to exercise their skills and knowledge on pruning, manual handling, health and safety, export market requirements, and quality control among other topics.
“I feel very humbled and honoured to have won,” he says. “I learnt a lot from each module, identified skills that I could improve on and challenged myself.
“My colleagues and mentors encouraged me to enter the competition and I’m glad I did. It has given me the opportunity to see where I am at in my career and to grow my skills further.”
Akonga says one highlight of the competition was meeting other young growers.
“The other contestants were great,” he says. “I’ve built some good friendships and developed industry connections with a range of companies too.
“For those that are thinking about entering the competition, I would say, step outside your comfort zone – you never know what you could achieve.”
Akonga will compete for his share of $30,000 in prizes at the National Young Grower of the Year final in Nelson on September 21-22.
HortNZ chief executive Nadine Tunley says the competition provides the next generation of growers with a valuable opportunity to further their careers.
“Our young growers are the future leaders of our industry,” she says.
Tunley says the competitions help growers test their limits and realise their potential.
“They also provide exceptional professional development and networking opportunities.
“Contestants walk away with greater confidence, new skills and connections and a boost to their horticulture career pathway.”
She says a combination of extreme weather events, the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing red tape have made the past few years particularly tough for growers.
“That’s why being able to hold events such as the Young Grower of the Year again is important. They are an opportunity for us to come together, catch up, celebrate our young growers’ success and foster growth and resilience in our sector,” she says.