The worker scheme known as Recognised Seasonal Employers (RSE) last year benefitted the Pacific Islands by at least $50 million, says Horticulture New Zealand (HNZ).
O’Neil replaces Julian Raine, who held the post for six years; Raine has stood down to pursue other business interests.
Bernadine Guilleux was elected vice-president, with both positions effective from 1 January 2019.
"Barry O’Neil has an impressive background and is well placed to lead the extraordinary growth in horticulture that is not without the challenges of access to land, water and people to enable that growth," Raine says.
"He will be well supported by Bernadine. Barry’s knowledge about biosecurity globally will also be an asset to growers.
"This has been a fantastic, interesting, challenging and rewarding leadership role for me, and I know it will be the same for Barry. I want to thank the industry and all our stakeholders for the support they have shown me," Raine says.
O’Neil has been a grower since 1984, when he did all the work on his kiwifruit and avocado orchard in Whakamarama. Since 2003, he has been growing kiwifruit in Katikati, also in the Bay of Plenty. Between orchards he held a number of government roles including New Zealand Trade Counsellor to the European Union and Chief Veterinary Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture. He lobbied for, and in 2005 led, the first entity wanting to achieve an integrated approach to biosecurity for Aotearoa New Zealand, Biosecurity New Zealand. He was the chief executive of Kiwifruit Vine Health for six years, driving the industry recovery from Psa, and has held a number of board positions including being deputy chair of Scion, Chair of Tomatoes NZ, and Chair of the kauri dieback review panel. He has been an independent director on the Horticulture New Zealand board since April 2015, but with his appointment as chair, he will now stand as a grower elected director at the 2019 director elections.
"These are exciting times for horticulture as the world catches on to our vision of: healthy food for all forever," O’Neil says.
"While I have a strong background in governance, government and as a grower, I am excited about working with growers to find a better future - for both us and our grandchildren."
Guilleux is a grower representative on the Horticulture New Zealand board. She has a strong marketing background, in New Zealand and Europe, and will be using these skills to help tell New Zealand’s unique horticulture story to the wider public. She is a member of the Balle family and grew up in the vegetable growing area of Pukekohe.