ERIN ATKINSON www.foodtechnology.co.nz 15 based on the collaboration of a number of sectors in horticulture. “People from different walks of life, like young leaders from amenities and viticulture, come together to compete on the same stage, and at the same time receive greater exposure to other talented people, influencers and sectors – it broadens their worldview, which is essential for developing their leadership skills.” WHEN Silver Ferns chief executive Dean Hamilton recently announced the winners of six Plate to Pasture Youth Scholarships – all young people from around New Zealand developing their careers in the red meat, food and farming industries – he couldn’t believe the standard of the 79 applications. “We were overwhelmed,” he says. “The standard and passion from the applicants exceeded all expectations. As part of the process, applicants were asked to identify what they see as the biggest challenge or opportunity in the food industry and what they would do about it. “The winners delivered ideas on a vast range of industry issues. These included a fresh look at dealing with biosecurity challenges, the development of food technology processes to extend the shelf life and flavour of red meat, exploring ways to sustainably add value to farming businesses, selling the story of New Zealand’s natural ‘artisan agriculture’ to the world, as well as challenging the industry to think big and be bold.” Each winner receives $5000 to further their careers, and Hamilton says by 2020, Silver Ferns aims to have invested $120,000 in scholarships to support 24 young people. FRUITFED Supplies national manager Max Spence says his company supports events and activities that actually make a significant contribution, which makes Young Hort a perfect fit. “There is a real upside to what the event offers our younger people in the sector,” he says. “It also introduces us to those people, and for anybody associated with the competition, it demonstrates that Fruitfed Supplies is reinvesting in those sectors that do business with us.” Spence says New Zealand’s horticultural sectors have a very bright future. The sustainability of the industry comes down to being able to produce a product that meets market demands and expectations. “At the moment, New Zealand’s horticulturists recognise what the market requires and they are dealing to it in spades. For that reason, we are well positioned for a bright future,” he says. “Variables like climatic conditions and fluctuating exchange rates mean that we must constantly aim to be better in other areas of production that we can influence.” FOR T&G, supporting young upcoming leaders is a no-brainer. Executive general manager Andrew Keaney says adapting to changing consumers and business demands with agility will enable businesses to flourish in the future. “There’s been rapid change in our industry and its only accelerating. As an industry, we need to keep adapting and evolving to meet the changing needs of our growers, retailers, wholesalers, consumers and people,” Keaney says. “We need to do more to attract people into our industry and retain great talent. “The Young Horticulturist competition plays a key role in the attraction and retention of young people as it celebrates achievements, while testing and growing skills. We’re delighted to be supporting, once again, tomorrow’s industry leaders as they take part in this competition.” When 30-year-old Erin Atkinson of Te Puke clinched the recent 11th annual Young Grower of the Year award, she made the industry smile with satisfaction. The first woman to win the title, the technical advisor for Apata Group is what Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman describes as the quintessential young leader with the future of New Zealand’s $5.6 billion horticultural industry in her hands. With a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture, Atkinson had to compete against four other candidates in a series of practical and theoretical challenges designed to test the skills needed to run a successful export-focused horticultural business, plus a leadership panel discussion and a speech on biosecurity. Chapman says the aim of the competition is to foster excellence amongst young growers and future-proof a $5.6 billion industry that exports 60% of total production to 124 countries.
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