Dillon takes Nelson title for second time

24 July 2023

Dillon Peterson is the 2023 Nelson Young Grower of the Year, taking out the title for the second time. The orchard hand from Hoddys Fruit Co of Stoke won the regional finals in 2018 and five years on, decided to give it another go.

“It’s been a while since last time I entered but because I gained a lot of personal development the first time, I decided to enter again,” says the 27-year-old who will compete at the national Young Grower of the Year final in Pukekohe on 4-5 October.

Dillon, who grew up at Wakefield near Nelson, enjoys the variety of work horticulture offers. “Every day is different, and I like the outdoors, the seasonal changes and the equipment we work with.

“I started in horticulture out of school as a general orchard hand before becoming a permanent staff member at Hoddys. My roles cover a wide range of tasks but mostly as part of the apple harvest team, carrying out winter pruning and machinery and irrigation maintenance.”

Outside of work Dillon enjoys quad bike riding, four-wheel-driving and mechanics. It’s his skills with machinery which means he’s often the go-to person at Hoddys when machinery needs attention.

Competing alongside Dillon for the Nelson title were Kaahu Birdling, supervisor with Thomas Bros; Palace Wheki, orchard hand of Tyrella Orchards; Te Konga Te Whare Ponga Moko, orchard hand of Tyrella Orchards; and Jordan Popata, supervisor/QC of Thomas Bros.

The contestants’ horticultural knowledge and practical skills were tested through a series of events at the Richmond Park Showgrounds, followed by a gala dinner where each made a speech.

Kaahu, who grew up in a house truck, travelling the South Island, began working in the industry as a 15-year-old pruning kiwifruit. “I loved it and haven’t looked back. There are so many options in horticulture it’s amazing. I appreciate the trust my bosses put in me and meeting new people and learning all the time. It’s pretty cool how willing people are to share their knowledge with me.”

Palace, who moved to Motueka with her family in 2010, planned a career as a flight attendant but Covid-19 prevented that dream. “I have no regrets, I love my work, especially being out in the orchard in springtime, enjoying the sunshine and the smell of the flowers.” Palace also appreciates the support and encouragement her employers give her.

Te Konga’s roles include forklift driving and orchard work. “I enjoy working with people from other cultures including Samoa, Tonga and Asia and learning how to set up an orchard and understand its soils. I have great support from my boss who sent words of encouragement on the competition day, which I needed because entering was out of my comfort zone.”

Jordon, who was born and raised at Motueka, discovered a love of growing plants by helping her parents in their big garden. Initially working as QC in the packhouse, this season she supervised 18 RSE workers picking fruit. “It was quite different from QC work and gave me a greater understanding of the whole picture around harvest. I appreciate the support of my bosses and take pride in seeing the high-quality fruit we produce.”