Wednesday, 05 June 2024 08:25

No family hort background, no problem for agronomist

Written by  Staff Reporters
Agronomist James Wells is the 2024 Pukekohe Young Grower of the Year. Agronomist James Wells is the 2024 Pukekohe Young Grower of the Year.

Jamie Wells, 29, an agronomist at Balle Brothers, is the 2024 Pukekohe Young Grower of the Year.

Held at LaValla Estate in Tuakau, the competition tested the vegetable and fruit-growing knowledge of seven contestants along with the skills needed to be successful growers.

Throughout the day competitors completed modules in marketing, compliance, pest and disease identification, safe tractor driving, finance, soil and fertilisers, irrigation and quality control. At the gala dinner later that evening they each delivered a speech and competed in a panel discussion.

Wells says the shock of the win is now starting to wear off and says that the Young Grower competition is a great opportunity to challenge your horticultural skills and to meet other young horticulturalists.

“I feel like with horticulture, even if you come from a background without any history of growing, you will be able to get far in it. That’s from a personal experience too — I’ve come from a family with no horticultural history, and then to get this far with perseverance and dedication. If you give it your best shot, you can go far.”

Wells is pleased with his performance at the competition but admits feeling a little out of depth with the tractor driving as he doesn’t spend much time driving vehicles as part of his horticulture work.

For the marketing module, Jamie designed a grilled onion charcoal briquette. His theoretical product would use waste onions and put them through a carbonisation process to have them dehydrated for use in a barbecue grill.

“That was my concept: a new way to use waste that wasn’t going to be used for anything else, perhaps maybe stock feed.”

Runner-up was 21-year-old Jack Haddon, an operator and chemical applicator at Balle Brothers.

Wells says Haddon is “a really switched-on guy”. We work quite a bit together, especially in terms of the brassica division. Most Mondays we catch up and walk through crops together and discuss what the plan is for the week ahead — how everything is going with crop health and how the harvest is looking.”

The seven Pukekohe competitors showcased a range of roles and experiences across the horticulture industry, from multi-generational growers to those with no prior rural background before growing fruit or vegetables commercially.

The other competitors were: Bethany Lang (T&G), Keegan Neate (Punchbowl Kiwifruit Services), Peter Schreuder (Gourmet Waiuku Ltd), Scott Wilcox (A.S. Wilcox & Sons), and Kendra Wright (Woodhaven Gardens).

The six regional competitions — Pukekohe, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson and Central Otago are run independently of the National Final. Hawke’s Bay will host the final on 9-10 October 2024.

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